A team of UCLA-led researchers has identified a protein with broad virus-fighting properties that potentially could be used as a weapon against deadly human pathogenic viruses such as HIV, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah and others designated "priority pathogens" for national biosecurity purposes by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
In a study published in the January issue of the journal Immunity, the researchers describe the novel antiviral property of the protein, cholesterol-25-hydroxylase (CH25H), an enzyme that converts cholesterol to an oxysterol called 25-hydroxycholesterol (25HC), which can permeate a cell's wall and block a virus from getting in.
Interestingly, the CH25H enzyme is activated by interferon, an essential antiviral cell-signaling protein produced in the body, said lead author Su-Yang Liu, a student in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"Antiviral genes have been hard to apply for therapeutic purposes because it is difficult to express genes in cells," said 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.
"Also, our initial studies showing that 25HC can inhibit HIV growth in vivo should prompt further study into membrane-modifying cholesterols that inhibit viruses," he added.
The discovery is particularly relevant to efforts to develop broad-spectrum antivirals against an increasing number of merging viral pathogens, Liu said.
Working with Jerome Zack, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and an associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute, the researchers initially found that 25HC dramatically inhibited HIV in cell cultures. Next, they administered 25HC in mice implanted with human tissues and found that it significantly reduced their HIV load within seven days. The 25HC also reversed the T-cell depletion caused by HIV.
By contrast, mice that had the CH25H gene knocked out were more susceptible to a mouse gammaherpes virus, the researchers found.