New drug targets are important to study to find new and more effective therapies to alleviate human disease. Currently, RNA and associated RNA-binding proteins are significantly underutilized as a potential target for drug development: most likely because there exists a lack of basic knowledge about how one should design a molecule to target these structures. In our research, the RNA-binding properties of new types of molecules are being examined with TAR RNA of HIV. Molecules that bind to these RNAs can potentially shut down replication of the virus. The basic knowledge developed from this work will ultimately be applicable to other RNA targets, and will provide a general set of guidelines for designing molecules that selectively bind a folded RNA structure. We identified a new version of our molecules that binds extremely well to TAR RNA and blocks association of the tat protein. In the past year, we have pursued the development of a small molecule to interfere with nucleocapid protein 7, NCp7, and its association in packaging viral HIV RNA. Interfering with this process is another strategy to interfere with HIV's progression and our publication Nature Chemical Biology shows the mechanism of the small molecule in preventing HIV replication involves a unique reacylation pathway. We have continued to develop this small molecule and are exploring translational work to examine more details of the mechanism and any associated toxicity.
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