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Antiviral Res. 2011 Oct;92(1):7-14. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2011.04.002. Epub 2011 Apr 12.

Molecular strategies to design an escape-proof antiviral therapy.

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Laboratory of Experimental Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Two antiviral approaches against the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) were presented at the Antivirals Congress in Amsterdam. The common theme among these two separate therapeutic research lines is the wish to develop a durable therapy that prevents viral escape. We will present a brief overview of these two research lines and focus on our efforts to design an escape-proof anti-HIV therapy. The first topic concerns the class of HIV-1 fusion inhibitors, including the prototype T20 peptide and the improved versions T1249 and T2635, which were all developed by Trimeris-Roche. The selection of T20-resistant HIV-1 strains is a fairly easy evolutionary process that requires a single amino acid substitution in the peptide binding site of the viral envelope glycoprotein (Env) target. The selection of T1249-resistant HIV-1 strains was shown to require a more dramatic amino acid substitution in the viral Env protein, in particular the introduction of charged amino acid residues that cause resistance by charge-repulsion of the antiviral peptide. The third generation peptide T2635 remains active against all these HIV-1 escape variants because the charged residues within this peptide are "masked" by an introduced intra-helical salt bridge. This charge masking concept could facilitate the future design of escape-proof antiviral peptides. The second topic concerns the mechanism of RNA interference (RNAi) that we are currently employing to develop an antiviral gene therapy. One can make human T cells resistant to HIV-1 infection by a stable RNAi-inducing gene transfer, but the virus escapes under therapeutic pressure of a single inhibitor. Several options for a combinatorial RNAi attack to prevent viral escape will be discussed. The simultaneous use of multiple RNAi inhibitors turns out to be the most effective and durable strategy.

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