Eric Hunter, PhD
Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine
Center for AIDS Research
Molecular Biology of HIV and other Retroviruses
Research in my laboratory centers on the replication and pathogenesis of retroviruses, with a particular focus on the development of novel therapeutic and vaccine approaches to HIV. Using a model system based on the primate retrovirus Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), we are studying the viral-host interactions that are necessary for assembly of virions. These studies have identified unique insights into the mechanisms the virus employs for intracellular targeting of components necessary for the assembly and release of infectious virions.
HIV-1 Glycoprotein-mediated Entry
Over the past several years, our laboratory has characterized the biosynthesis and transport of the HIV-1 glycoprotein (Env), and has identified protein domains critical for fusion and entry of the virus. Our current studies focus on the membrane-spanning component of the Env complex, gp41, which not only acts as the membrane fusion machine for the virus, but also targets Env to the site of virus assembly. These studies utilize molecular genetics approaches to dissect out structure-function relationships within the protein, with the goal of identifying new therapeutic targets for HIV-1.
Heterosexual Transmission of HIV-1
Employing knowledge and technology gained in the molecular characterization of the HIV Env complex and its role in membrane fusion, we have embarked on studies in Rwanda and Zambia aimed at defining, at a molecular level, the nature of the virus that establishes infection following heterosexual transmission. Studies from more than 20 transmission pairs show that a severe genetic bottleneck occurs during transmission, with a single genetic variant initiating infection in the new host. Studies are ongoing to define the unique biological and structural properties of the transmitted virus with the goal of targeting these variants with vaccines. We are also investigating how HIV-1 adapts over time to cellular and humoral immune pressures as it is transmitted from one immunogenetic environment to another. These studies will provide keys to the mechanisms HIV uses to evade the immune response of a newly infected host.