The Molecules of HIV

Note: this site last updated in 2006

throw a spanner into the works

An article from "The Molecules of HIV" (c) Dan Stowell

The HIV virus goes through a relatively complicated life cycle, involving the co-ordination of a fair number of different types of molecules, and there are quite a few steps in the replication cycle. Can't we just throw some spanner in the works? Stop just one of the steps in the cycle? Surely if we could do that then we'd stop the virus replicating and causing AIDS in the infected person, and stop it transmitting to new individuals.

Unfortunately, of course, it isn't that simple. The HIV cycle might look like an improbably complicated and delicately-poised ballet of molecules, but it's actually quite resilient. In addition, most of the ballet takes place in a difficult place to access - the inside of CD4+ cells. Any chemicals we might want to use to fight HIV are going to have to find their way into CD4+ cells, and once inside, do their job without significantly damaging other processes.

Given that, however, let's look at some of the ways which have been suggested for trying to interrupt the HIV cycle. Many of these have been tried in clinical trials, and often have some mildly positive effects - although there's no "magic bullet", and the side-effects of these drugs are often too much for patients to bear.

Written by
Dan Stowell

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