University of South Carolina
Dr. Zhu’s research aims toward finding solutions to a newly recognized challenge in treatment for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HANDs). About one-half of HIV-1-positive individuals suffer from HAND, which dramatically affects memory, learning, decision-making, planning and overall quality of life. Cocaine has been shown to exacerbate the severity of HAND. HAND is associated with HIV-1 viral proteins, which are present in the brain of HIV-1-infected patients. HIV-1 transactivator of transcription (Tat) protein--an HIV regulatory protein--is thought to inhibit neuronal communication by acting directly on the human dopamine transporter, a membrane protein in the brain responsible for pumping the dopamine back into the cytosol and terminating dopamine signaling during neurotransmission. Dr. Zhu’s project is to investigate how cocaine and Tat work to create binders that derail neuronal communication in the brain. The ultimate goal is to develop neuroprotective drugs and help HIV patients recover their neurological function.
HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders