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Researchers have found an unusual mechanism by which HIV might evade antibodies released as part of the body's defence mechanism, either in response to a vaccine or to the viral infection itself.

This could help to explain why HIV has defied scientists' best efforts to develop a vaccine despite two decades of research.

The persistence of HIV is a result of its ability to evade antibodies, which must bind to the virus in order to fight it. Researchers report in this week's Nature that a protein on the surface of the HIV virus, known as gp120, manages to prevent antibodies from binding by changing shape when antibodies approach the binding site.

The gp120 protein is seen as one of the prime targets for vaccine development, and is currently the focus of large-scale clinical trials. An understanding of the molecule's properties will "guide attempts to create vaccines as well as therapeutics," according to the researchers.

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Link to research paper by Peter D. Kwong et al

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