An article published in the Journal of Proteome Research has identified 25 human proteins that can be captured by the HIV-1 virus, the most infectious HIV subtype.

The research, done by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical Group, suggests that this discovery could be critical to understanding how the virus can adapt and spread as quickly as it does.

When a new HIV particle emerges from an infected human cell, it wraps itself in membrane and proteins from the host cell, which means effectively disguising itself from the immune system’s sentinels. Scientists believe that some of these proteins are specifically “chosen” by the virus in order to enhance its ability to survive.

Although the HIV-1 strain can capture more than 25 proteins, it is believed that these are the key ones as they have been found in HIV-1 viruses coming from two different types of infected cell, and the other proteins are simply caught up in the viral packaging.

In short, these proteins are transferrable between completely different cells and can therefore spread rapidly without the knowledge of the host’s immune system.

Dr David Graham, the senior author from the research team, said: “Human proteins incorporated into viruses could potentially be used to find, and selectively kill, cells harbouring HIV, but the problem is that HIV can steal hundreds of different proteins unique to each cell type that it infects, leaving too many targets for researchers and drug companies to chase after.”

By focussing on these proteins, it could make diagnosis and more specific treatment courses.