The three-dimensional structure of a molecule involved in HIV infection and in many forms of cancer has been discovered by scientists.
The high-resolution structure sheds light on how the molecule functions and could point to ways to control its activity, potentially locking out HIV and stalling cancer's spread.
The molecule, CXCR4, is part of a large family of proteins called G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs).
These molecules span the cell's membrane and transmit signals from the external environment to the cell's interior.
GPCRs help control practically every bodily process, including cell growth, hormone secretion and light perception. Nearly half of all drugs on the market target these receptors.
"Scientists have been studying CXCR4 for years but have only been able to guess at what it looks like. Now that we have its structure, we have a much clearer picture of how this medically important molecule works, opening up entire new areas for drug discovery," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins.
The researchers were led by Raymond C. Stevens, from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.,
The findings have been reported in the Oct. 7, 2010, advance online issue of the journal Science.