Plant-based inhibitor could halt HIV infection

A compound derived from soybeans and other plants may have HIV-fighting properties, according to new research by scientists at George Mason University.

Their study, which appears in the journal Retrovirology, found that the plant-based compound genistein stopped HIV infection in resting CD4 T cells--specialized cells in the immune system. Genistein is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that works by blocking the communication from a cell's surface sensors to its interior. HIV gets into the interior of cells and spreads infection by using some of the sensors on the surface of cells to trick them into sending the signals to the interior. Instead of acting directly on the virus, genistein blocks this signaling process that allows the virus to infect cells. In this way, genistein makes it more difficult for the virus to become resistant to drugs.

In a safety study, researchers did not observe any adverse effects in HIV-infected monkeys that were given genistein orally for 12 weeks. The next step is to find out how much genistein is needed to inhibit HIV in the animal model.

HIV patients are able to manage the virus by taking a combination of multiple drugs, which can sometimes cause toxicity. HIV also has the ability to mutate and become drug-resistant, making current therapies ineffective in treating the virus.

The study results may suggest that similar naturally occurring kinase inhibitors may be good candidates for long-term management of HIV infection. Such cellular protein-based therapy may also have additional advantages in combating HIV drug resistance.

The research is still in its early stages, and the George Mason team does not recommend that patients self-medicate by consuming large amounts of soy products.

- read the George Mason University news
- here's the study