Scientists from the United States and China have obtained a high-resolution image of the structure of a cell-surface receptor through which most strains of HIV enter human immune cells.

The researchers were likewise able to demonstrate how one antiviral, maraviroc, blocks the entry of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"These structural details should help us understand more precisely how HIV infects cells, and how we can do better at blocking that process with next-generation drugs," senior researcher Beili Wu said in the study, published Thursday in Science Express.

The team looked at the CCR5 receptor, which is seen as a promising target for new anti-HIV drugs.

HIV was initially found to infect cells through the CD4 receptor, but subsequent investigation determined that the virus needs a co-receptor.

In most cases, the co-receptor is CCR5, located next to CD4 on many immune cells.

Some genetic variants of CCR5 have been show to substantially increase or diminish the risk of infection with HIV, the U.S.-Chinese team noted.

People who produce only a particular CCR5 variant that occurs in roughly 10 percent of Europeans are almost invulnerable to HIV infection.

The study's goal was to remedy the lack of "a high-resolution molecular 'picture' of the CCR5 receptor structure that we can use for precise drug design," Wu said. 

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