Scientists discover critical anti-viral role of biological molecule

January 26, 2017
Our immune systems are constantly engaged in battling viral infections. Credit: Lisa Brown.

Scientists have discovered that a biological molecule important in cell growth (STAT3) is also critical in protecting us against infection - so much so that we would be unable to fight the common flu virus without it. Their discovery could pave the way to the development of new therapeutics charged with restoring our natural immunity to a whole spectrum of viruses that have evolved 'roadblocks' to the immune response.

The team behind the work was led by Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Nigel Stevenson. The findings have recently been published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.

In a world of newly emerging viral infections such as SARS, ZIKA and Ebola, the importance of understanding how target our immune system, and the need to develop new therapies to cure and protect us, has never been greater.

During any viral infection our cells produce an immune molecule called Interferon, which essentially 'interferes' with the battle plans of attacking viruses—preventing them from replicating in our bodies. When our cells are stimulated by Interferon a cascade of molecules within our cells is activated like a series of dominos. When the final one falls, the cell should be able to clear the viral infection. This cascade of molecules is termed a signalling pathway as it passes the 'danger signal' of viral infection through the cell.

The Interferon signalling pathway initiates the production of several hundred immune molecules that act to destroy viruses and amplify our immune response against them. However, as we know, many viruses are not cleared by our natural immune response and can often cause serious illness. Immunologists from Trinity, wondering how viruses suppress the immune response, have discovered that they have evolved numerous methods to inhibit these signalling pathways and thus block responses to Interferon.

Dr Stevenson said: "We thought that since the Interferon signalling pathway enhances the immune response against viruses so effectively, viruses might have evolved means to block it - such a reality would explain why several viruses are so troublesome to defeat."

Indeed, over the past few years, Dr Stevenson and his team had discovered that Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), among others, specifically target the Interferon signalling pathway which helps them avoid being naturally cured by our immune systems.

Scientists had, until now, believed they fully understood how the Interferon signalling pathway worked, but by using a series of and cutting-edge molecular techniques, Dr Stevenson's team discovered a new anti-viral role for STAT3.

Dr Stevenson said: "For decades we have known that STAT3 is essential for healthy , but our new revelation identifies it for the first time as an essential anti-viral component in the Interferon signalling pathway. In fact, we found that without STAT3, cells cannot fight the common Flu virus or the Pox vaccinia virus."

"Of course a major goal of our ongoing work is to find solutions to the real-world problems faced by the thousands of people who cannot clear certain viruses after they have been infected. This discovery opens the door to new therapeutic options, which, we hope, will be able to help people restore their against a host of problematic viruses."

Explore further: New therapeutic target against persistent viral infections

More information: Rebecca Mahony et al, A novel anti-viral role for STAT3 in IFN-α signalling responses, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s00018-016-2435-3

Related Stories

New therapeutic target against persistent viral infections

January 11, 2017
Life is a question of balance, and the body is no exception. Expression levels of certain proteins can affect the immune system's ability to neutralize a virus. Type I interferons (IFN-I) are cytokines that were previously ...

Women at greater risk for Zika infection due to suppressed vaginal immune response

November 16, 2016
Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes discovered that the vaginal immune system is suppressed in response to RNA viruses, such as Zika. The delayed antiviral immune response allows the virus to remain undetected in the vagina, ...

Study reveals how a cancer-causing virus blocks human immune response

January 26, 2015
Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at San Francisco have revealed how a type of cancer-causing virus outwits the human body's immune response. The discovery might help explain ...

Scientists pinpoint pathway of resistance to viral infections in the gut

October 27, 2015
The gut is an important barrier for the body, protecting it from pathogens that might otherwise cause illness. While scientists have investigated the intestinal immune response to bacterial invaders, the response to viruses ...

Scientists find new way to mobilize immune system against viruses

May 12, 2014
University of British Columbia scientists have uncovered an intricate chain reaction in the body's immune system and have used the knowledge to develop a new treatment against harmful viruses.

'Key' to recognizing and immunizing herpes, common cold

April 4, 2016
Researchers at McMaster University have discovered a critical step in the immune system's recognition of DNA viruses. It's a key finding, they say, that could lead to vaccinations for herpes, the common cold or even cancer.

Recommended for you

Bacterial pathogens outwit host immune defences via stealth mechanisms

October 20, 2017
Despite their relatively small genome in comparison to other bacteria, mycoplasmas can cause persistent and often difficult-to-treat infections in humans and animals. An extensive study by researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna ...

Scientists find where HIV 'hides' to evade detection by the immune system

October 19, 2017
In a decades-long game of hide and seek, scientists from Sydney's Westmead Institute for Medical Research have confirmed for the very first time the specific immune memory T-cells where infectious HIV 'hides' in the human ...

Tracing cell death pathway points to drug targets for brain damage, kidney injury, asthma

October 19, 2017
University of Pittsburgh scientists are unlocking the complexities of a recently discovered cell death process that plays a key role in health and disease, and new findings link their discovery to asthma, kidney injury and ...

Researchers release the brakes on the immune system

October 18, 2017
Many tumors possess mechanisms to avoid destruction by the immune system. For instance, they misuse the natural "brakes" in the immune defense mechanism that normally prevent an excessive immune response. Researchers at the ...

How cytoplasmic DNA triggers inflammation in human cells

October 17, 2017
A team led by LMU's Veit Hornung has elucidated the mechanism by which human cells induce inflammation upon detection of cytoplasmic DNA. Notably, the signal network involved differs from that used in the same context in ...

Gene transcription in virus-specific CD8 T cells differentiates chronic from resolving HCV

October 17, 2017
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators have identified differences in gene transcription within key immune cells that may distinguish those individuals infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) who develop chronic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.