UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists have synthesized a peptide that shows potential for pharmaceutical development into agents for treating infections, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer through an ability to induce a cell-recycling process called autophagy.
Autophagy is a fundamental recycling process in which intracellular enzymes digest unneeded and broken parts of the cell into their individual building blocks, which are then reassembled into new parts. The role of autophagy is crucial both in keeping cells healthy and in enabling them to fight different diseases. Physician scientists in UT Southwestern's Center for Autophagy Research are deciphering how to manipulate the autophagy process in an effort to disrupt the progression of disease and promote health.
In their latest findings reported online in the journal Nature, Center researchers were able to synthesize a peptide called Tat-beclin 1, which induces the autophagy process. Mice treated with Tat-beclin-1 were resistant to several infectious diseases, including West Nile virus and another mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya that is common to Asia, Africa, and India. In additional experiments, the team demonstrated that human cells treated with the peptide were resistant to HIV infection in a laboratory setting.
"Because autophagy plays such a crucial role in regulating disease, autophagy-inducing agents such as the Tat-beclin 1 peptide may have potential for pharmaceutical development and the subsequent prevention and treatment of a broad range of human diseases," said Dr. Beth Levine, Director of the Center for Autophagy Research and senior author of the study. Dr. Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology, is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UT Southwestern.