Blue-green algae component studied for HIV and Ebola infection

Researchers have discovered that a bacterial protein known to reduce the ability of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to infect cells also inhibits infection by the Ebola virus. The antiviral protein from blue-green algae, known as cyanovirin-N (CV-N), can extend the survival time of Ebola-infected mice, say researchers from the National Cancer Institute. There is currently no treatment for Ebola infection, which causes severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever.

CV-N comes from blue-green algae and was found to effectively inhibit HIV infection of cells grown in the laboratory. “CV-N is extremely effective against a broad range of HIV strains,” said Barry O’Keefe, PhD. It is currently being investigated in the laboratory as a potential topical microbicide to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. One type of blue-green algae called spirulina has been shown in earlier studies to boost immune system function, support cancer-fighting mechanisms and reverse age-related declines in brain function.

CV-N inhibits HIV infection by binding to the outside of the virus and physically blocking it from entering cells. The protein is known to attach to a particular sugar molecule on the virus surface. Since similar sugar molecules coat the Ebola virus, researchers hoped CV-N might have the same effect on Ebola that it does on HIV. Their hypothesis proved to be true. Laboratory experiments revealed that CV-N does bind to the sugar molecules on the outside of the Ebola virus and inhibits its ability to infect cells. While researchers feel that it is too early to say CV-N is itself an effective Ebola treatment, they are optimistic that the findings may lead to useful therapies.

National Cancer Institute, Mar 3, 2003