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    New Membrane Research Takes Shape

    Fall 2012

    Richard Harth

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    This year’s International AIDS Conference outlined ambitious global treatment goals with the potential to save millions of lives. On the downside, however, participants reported disappointingly slow progress toward an effective vaccine against HIV.

    According to David Gidalevitz, IIT associate professor of physics, a more fundamental understanding of cell membranes—the port of entry for HIV and other pathogens—may eventually break this deadlock. His research into the nature of biological membranes, reported in the journal Physical Review Letters, is providing important new insights into these dynamic structures.

    “In living cells, we see curvature everywhere,” Gidalevitz says, noting that it occurs not only on the cell’s surface, but in internal structures. “But what is the mechanism of this curvature? That’s a very interesting question.”

    The new paper examines the role of cholesterol in directing cell membrane curvature in the presence of gp41—a key HIV fusion protein, which acts like a molecular harpoon, piercing the cell membrane and initiating HIV infection.

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