Two groups of HHMI investigators in 1997 independently revealed the structure of a protein fragment, called gp41, from the surface of HIV that penetrates a cell's membrane, allowing the virus to gain access to the cell's reproductive machinery. Peter S. Kim, who was an HHMI investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, headed the first group. He is now at Merck. The late Don C. Wiley and Stephen C. Harrison, both at Children's Hospital in Boston and Harvard University, were members of the second group. Kim Laboratory, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
In 1998, Wayne A. Hendrickson, an HHMI investigator at Columbia University, and colleagues solved the three-dimensional structure of the HIV-1 protein, gp120, that makes first contact with human cells. When this surface protein (red) encounters a lymphocyte that bears the protein CD4 on its surface (yellow), the gp120 docks with the lymphocyte. The virus also must bind to a chemokine receptor, discovered by Dan R. Littman and others, in order to begin infection. Peter Kwong and Erik Martinez-Hackert/Columbia University
Images: Kim Laboratory, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; Peter Kwong and Erik Martinez-Hackert/Columbia University
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Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
December 2002, pages 12-17.
©2002 Howard Hughes Medical Institute