Are we one step closer to understanding a disease that affects nearly 40 million people worldwide? A UEA research team had made progress by exploring the relationship between blood tinner Heparin and the body's natural defences against HIV.

A blood thinning agent is helping researchers at the University of East Anglia understand more about the body’s natural barriers to HIV.

New research reveals how the protein langerin, which is present in genital mucous and acts as a natural HIV barrier during the first stages of contamination, interacts with the drug heparin.

The research team has been able to identify two different mechanisms for that interaction ‑ involving different sites or ‘faces’ at the surface of the langerin protein.

Lead researcher Dr Jesus Angulo from UEA’s School of Pharmacy said: “Langerin is produced by immune cells which are present in genital mucous. They constitute the first obstacle that the HIV virus finds in its way to infecting someone”.

“Heparin is widely used as an anticoagulant agent that prevents the formation of blood clots. But it also occurs naturally in the body with different compositions and surrounds our cells”.

Langerin‑heparin interactions are thought to be significant in the degradation of the HIV virus. The way that heparin interacts with langerin is important because it is thought to stabilize the formation of granules that facilitates the elimination of HIV particles.

“This is a basic research study providing structural details of a potentially relevant interaction in a known natural barrier to HIV. Yet, of course, it doesn’t mean that taking heparin or other anticoagulant drugs will protect people from HIV”.

The ultimate aim of this line of research is to develop drugs that inhibit the HIV cellular receptors that facilitate infection, without inhibiting, or even better boosting, the activity of langerin.

“This is obviously a long‑term goal towards which this research is providing significant initial steps."

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The Expert

Dr Jesus Angulo

Research Fellow in NMR Spectroscopy
School of Pharmacy
My research interests focus on the characterization of the three‑dimensional structures and dynamics of biologically active molecules, with a particular focus on carbohydrates (Structural Glycobiology), and their specific interactions with receptors, either natural or synthetic, using high‑resolution NMR spectroscopy and computational techniques.