Our immune system is well equipped to defend us against invading pathogens, including viruses. However, the fact that we still get sick indicates that our immune defense strategies can be defeated. Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1), the causative agent of AIDS, is a master in suppressing and evading host immune mechanisms. This is where our research mainly focuses on. Elucidating these immune evasion mechanisms of the virus not only will lead to an in-depth understanding of HIV-1 biology, but also may reveal opportunities to revitalize the immune system to combat or even eliminate the infection, a highly desirable outcome that cannot be achieved by today’s antiretrovirals.
As structural biologists, we strive to contribute to this campaign by providing atomic-resolution pictures of molecular events that dictate the HIV-1-immune interplay. A particular molecule of interest is the viral protein Nef, which modulates multiple host immune mechanisms to favor viral replication and spread.
Our most powerful research tools are macromolecular X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM). In addition, people in the lab are also trained rigorously in molecular biology, protein expression and purification, protein biochemistry, biophysics, high-throughput screening for drug discovery, etc.