Tne very puzzling thing about AIDS is why some infected people remain free of symptoms for years. Now, a report in the Aug. 21 issue of Nature magazine provides the answer: Before the AIDS virus can take its deadly toll, it must be switched on by a protein that is produced by one specific gene in the body's so-called T-cells. These are the immune cells that the AIDS virus attacks. The switching phenomenon was discovered several years ago, but what triggered it had remained a mystery--and it still isn't known what activates the T-cell to produce the protein that in turn prompts the AIDS virus.
Nevertheless, the discovery of the gene--by scientists at the University of Michigan Medical Center working under Dr. Gary J. Nabel, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher--may lead to drugs that block production of the protein or otherwise interfere with the switch-on process. That would force the AIDS virus to remain latent indefinitely. Such a treatment would be a vital breakthrough because, at this point, the virus is impossible to get rid of once a person is infected.