By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 10 2001 12:00 AM ET
A recently discovered molecule may play a major role in how HIV invades and infects the body, according to researchers at the University of Nijmegen, The New York Times reports. A study by the research team identified a molecule, called DC-SIGN (dendritic-cell-specific, icam-grabbing nonintegrin), that exists on the fingerlike dendritic cells just below the skin surface and under moist mucus tissues of the vagina, urethra, and penis. According to scientists, the dendritic cells capture microbes and viruses like HIV that invade the body through the mucus membranes, then carry the invaders to lymph nodes throughout the body where they are attacked by immune system cells. But HIV replicates within the very cells sent to destroy it, turning the dendritic cells into Trojan horses. Researchers say the study could spawn a new class of HIV drugs aimed at the DC-SIGN molecule and aid in the development of microbicides used vaginally and anally to prevent HIV infection.