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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Spring 98 > Article

Selenium & AIDS
by Steven N. Koppes

When Will Taylor first predicted the existence of genes that could incorporate the mineral selenium to regulate the production of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, his work was considered highly theoretical (Research Reporter, Summer 1995).

Now, three years later, those theories are panning out in the laboratory, including evidence that an HIV protein incorporates selenium.

In the Journal of AIDS, Taylor, a UGA associate professor of pharmacy, recently published a computer analysis showing that one of his predicted HIV genes is a significant match to a gene called glutathione peroxidase (GPx). This gene is an enzyme in the body that uses selenium for defense against free radicals — disease-producing molecules.

Taylor also has found the GPx gene in the hepatitus C virus, a potentially fatal liver infection carried by approximately 4 million people in the United States.

"Hepatitus C is a major problem. In this country, it’s five times as prevalent as HIV," he said.

A group at the National Institutes of Health has demonstrated a functional GPx gene in a pox virus. "The idea that viruses can encode a selenium-containing protein is now definitely established," Taylor said.

Taylor also predicted in 1994 that declining selenium levels would help speed the progression of AIDS. His ideas initially met with criticism, but further supporting evidence has emerged. "I’m aware of at least seven papers since ’94 that show selenium levels strongly correlate with disease mortality or progression," he said.

Among them was a University of Miami paper, which reported that selenium deficiency is associated with a 20-fold increased risk of HIV-related mortality. The Miami research group is planning a five-year clinical trial to see if dietary selenium supplements affect long-term survival of AIDS patients.

It turns out, however, that selenium may be declining in the food chain because of acid rain and other factors.

"A 1997 study showed that the amount of selenium in the typical British diet has declined by half in only 22 years," Taylor said. "This raises serious concerns because selenium can regulate HIV."

Taylor will continue his selenium-HIV research with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

For more information please e-mailWill Taylor at wtaylor@rx.uga.edu
or access http://bioinfo.chem.uga.edu/homepage/wtaylor/


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Selenium and AIDS