The HIV Spike, Revealed


The gaudy green image you see below is not an avant-garde sculpture, but the most detailed image yet made of the protein “spike” that allows HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – to latch onto and enter human blood cells.

Protruding from the virus’ membrane, the spike is considered one of the most tantalizing targets for vaccines designed to prevent infection by HIV. The new three-dimensional image, produced by Dana-Farber investigators, allows researchers to visualize for the first time the individual envelope proteins – gp120 and gp41 – that make up the spike, as well as the smaller components of those proteins.

“The fascinating cage-like architecture of the envelope spike contributes to HIV’s ability to avoid an attack from immune system antibodies,” says Dana-Farber’s Joseph Sodroski, MD, who led the work with colleague Youdong Mao, PhD. “Knowing the detailed structure of the spike may assist scientists in developing vaccines that elicit more effective virus-blocking antibodies.”

To create the image, investigators purified tiny amounts of the envelope spike and used cryoelectron microscopy – which magnifies molecules at very low temperatures – to obtain the three dimensional pictures. The results were published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

AIDS has been a focus of research at Dana-Farber since the early 1980s – soon after the disease was first identified – because of the many biological links between AIDS and cancer.

Make An Appointment

For adults: 877-960-1562

Quick access: Appointments as soon as the next day for new adult patients

For children: 888-733-4662

All content in these blogs is provided by independent writers and does not represent the opinions or advice of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute or its partners.

Latest Tweets

Dana-Farber @danafarber
Researchers are testing an array of immunotherapy strategies such as #vaccines, checkpoint inhibitor drugs, CAR T-c…
Dana-Farber @danafarber
RT @lisa_scherber: No words to capture this visit from MA Army National Guard❤️ They marched 5 miles on their annual Toy Drive Ruck March.…
Dana-Farber @danafarber
RT @wbz: National Guard Officer Candidates March Four Miles To Deliver Toys To Children At @DanaFarber. https://t.c

Republish our posts on your blog

Interested in sharing one of our stories on your blog? Feel free to republish this content! We just ask that you credit Dana-Farber, link to the original article, and refrain from making edits that change the original context. Questions? Email the editors at