K. Sandeep Prabhu of Pennsylvania State University said selenium is a micronutrient that the body needs to maintain normal metabolism. Unlike other nutrients, which bind to certain proteins and modulate the protein's activity, selenium gets incorporated into proteins in the form of an amino acid called selenocysteine. Selenoproteins are especially important in reducing the stress caused by an infection, thereby slowing its spread, Prabhu said.
"We have found that increasing the expression of proteins that contain selenium negatively affects the replication of HIV," Prabhu said in a statement. "Our results suggest a reduction in viral replication by at least ten-fold."
Upon infecting a person, the HIV virus quickly degrades selenoproteins so that it can replicate efficiently. It is unclear just how the virus is able to silence these proteins but Prabhu and colleagues said the stress inflicted on cells by the rapidly dividing virus, which produces a key protein known as Tat, is the likely culprit.
The findings are published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.