SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. government scientists have discovered an important piece of the puzzle in their efforts to learn how the human immunodeficiency virus operates.
The latest discovery involves identification of a specific receptor that guides the virus to the intestines where it replicates and eventually destroys the body's lymph tissue, The New York Times reported Monday.
A team headed by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found a molecule which normally directs immune cells to the intestines is also a receptor for HIV.
The Times says the team discovered a protein on the outer shell of the virus sticks to the receptor molecule identified as integrin alpha-4 beta-7.
AIDS expert Dr. Warner C. Greene of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in San Francisco termed the findings "an important advance in the field."
"They begin to shed light on the mysterious process on why the virus preferentially grows in the gut," Dr. Greene told The Times.
The findings were reported online Sunday in the journal Nature Immunology.