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In this case, our heroes are potent antibodies from the body's immune system that bind to and neutralize HIV--and the story could lead to a vaccine against AIDS.

In a new study, a team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) tracked how a family of these HIV-fighting antibodies develops over time. The research shows how a future vaccine might trigger the immune system to produce these antibodies more effectively.

"If you could produce these antibodies through vaccination, that would be a really fantastic start to preventing HIV," said Ian Wilson, Hansen Professor of Structural Biology and chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at TSRI.

The research was published December 15, 2015, in the journal Immunity.

Antibodies in Training

At boot camp, it takes time for soldiers to hone their response against a specific threat. Similarly, it takes time for immune system cells to identify a particular virus's weak points and enlist antibodies that mutate, tweaking their structures to better bind to and neutralize the virus.

In the case of one family of HIV-targeting antibodies known as PGT121, it takes around two years for antibodies to mature enough to fight HIV. While this delay is too long to be effective in preventing infection, the existence of these antibodies inspired scientists to try to find ways to harness their power in a vaccine.

In the new study, scientists looked at the early stages of development in the PGT121 family, specifically in the PGT122 and PGT124 branches. These antibodies caught scientists' attention because they are "broadly neutralizing," meaning they can stop many strains of the rapidly mutating virus. They also have the special ability to target a piece of viral machinery called the HIV Envelope glycoprotein, which enables the virus to bind to and penetrate host cells.

Using high-resolution imaging techniques, the researchers mapped out the structures of these antibodies, bound with the HIV Envelope glycoprotein, at select points in their boot-camp training. They found that different branches of antibodies developed different strategies to get around HIV's defenses.

Read More: Sciencedaily

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