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UCLA scientists find protein that could thwart HIV, other viruses

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A newly identified protein with virus-fighting properties could help prevent deadly pathogenic viruses, such as HIV and Ebola, among others.

A team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the protein cholesterol-25-hydroxylase, or CH25H, has anti-viral characteristics. The enzyme converts cholesterol to an oxysterol called 25-hydroxycholesterol, or 25HC, which can enter a cell's wall and block a virus from getting in.

CH25H expression in cells requires interferon, which has been known for more than 60 years to be a critical part of the body's natural defense mechanism against viruses. Interferon does not have any anti-viral properties, but it triggers the expression of many anti-viral genes, according to UCLA researchers.

"Anti-viral genes have been hard to apply for therapeutic purposes because it is difficult to express genes in cells," said lead author and UCLA student Su-Yang Liu, who performed the study with principal investigator Genhong Cheng, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. "CH25H, however, produces a natural, soluble oxysterol that can be synthesized and administered."

The protein could potentially combat HIV, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah and other diseases known as "priority pathogens" for national biosecurity purposes by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

The scientists' study, which appeared recently in the journal Immunity, shows that 25HC can inhibit HIV growth in vivo, a finding that could prompt more research into membrane-modifying cholesterols that inhibit viruses.

- read UCLA's press release

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