'Tweezer' Molecule May Improve Infectious Disease Prevention

Research may lead to gel that prevents transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and the Ebola virus.

Infectious disease prevention may soon take a huge step forward as scientists proclaim that a molecule may have the capability to annihilate viral particles in semen.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Ulm University in Germany, hypothesized that CLR01, referred to as the “tweezer” molecule due to its shape, binds to certain residues in semen and interferes with the fibril assembly. To test this theory, the scientists performed replica exchange molecular dynamics simulations using the available structure of PAP248-286, the best characterized of the amyloid-forming peptides in semen.

This analysis revealed that in silico, CLR01 bound at least 7 of the 8 positively charged residues in PAP248-286 without grossly altering peptide secondary structure. The evidence suggests that CLR01 could prevent PAP248-286 assembly into SEVI fibrils. In layman’s terms, the molecule attaches itself to certain residues within PAP248-286, preventing the development of the HIV virus within the SEVI fibrils in semen.

Scientists purport that the preventative measure for HIV could be developed into a vaginal or anal gel that instantly destroys viral particles.

“We think that CLR01 could be more effective than other microbicides that are in development because of its dual action, its safety in terms of side effects and its potential broad application,” said Professor James Shorter, coauthor on a part of the find published in eLife.

CLR01’s effectiveness comes from its ability to block amyloid fibrils activity, the polymers in semen which make HIV so infectious. Because CLR01 works in 2 fashions, both destroying HIV particles and preventing them from manifesting, scientists believe they have discovered a dual form of attack against the virus. Since the molecule destroys only the viral membrane but does not impact any other membranes in the body, scientists suggest it be used in a gel form as a preventative measure against the disease.

Because of its ability to block amyloid fibrils activity, the team has also suggested it be deployed against a host of other viruses, including hepatitis C and even flu or Ebola.

CLR01 has been studied for many years but never in relation to HIV. Previous trials have revealed CLR01 prevents proteins from grouping together, leaving it to be proposed as a preventative measure against Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.

As the study was conducted in lab mice and zebrafish, scientists hope to move forward with human-based trials next. The promising study leaves many hopeful about the state of knowledge about HIV and the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid the virus.