'Exciting' discovery on path to develop new type of vaccine to treat global viruses

September 15, 2017, University of Southampton
Zika and dengue are among the diseases spread by mosquitoes. Credit: University of Southampton

Scientists at the University of Southampton have made a significant discovery in efforts to develop a vaccine against Zika, dengue and Hepatitis C viruses that affect millions of people around the world.

In a study published in Science Immunology, researchers have shown that (NK cells), which are a fundamental part of the body's immune system, can recognise many different viruses including global pathogens such as Zika, dengue and Hepatitis C viruses, through a single receptor called KIR2DS2.

Lead researcher Salim Khakoo, Professor of Hepatology, said the findings are very exciting and could change the way viruses are targeted by vaccines but warned that the research is still at an early stage, and animal studies/clinical trials will be needed to test the findings.

Vaccines work by stimulating the immune response to the coat of proteins on the enabling the body to fight off the virus and recognise it in the future. However, the viruses are able to change their coat proteins, helping the virus to evade the antibodies, meaning some viruses can be very hard to vaccinate against.

The Southampton team have shown that this NK cell receptor is able to target a non-variable part of the virus called the NS3 helicase protein, which is essential in making the virus work properly. Unlike other proteins, the NS3 helicase protein does not change, which allows the immune system to grab hold of it and let the NK cells deal with the threat.

Professor Khakoo said: "The NS3 helicase protein could be the key in unlocking the defence of lethal viruses that affect so many people around the world. It is very exciting to discover that other viruses similar to Hepatitis C, such as Zika virus, , yellow fever virus, Japanese encephalitis virus and in fact all flaviviruses, contain a region within their NS3 helicase proteins that is recognised by exactly the same KIR2DS2 receptor. We believe that by targeting this NS3 helicase region, we could make a new type of vaccine based upon natural killer cells, which can be used to help protect people from these infections."

The study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, analysed DNA from more than 300 patients exposed to the Hepatitis C virus, which showed that the KIR2DS2 receptor was associated with successfully clearing the virus. The team then identified that the immune system targeted the NS3 helicase protein of this using the receptor and found that it prevented the virus multiplying.

They went on to demonstrate that this same mechanism icould be important for many different viruses for example the Zika and dengue , which also contain a region within their NS3 that is recognised by the KIR2DS2 receptor.

The researchers now need to determine whether these KIR2DS2+ NK cells are protective during acute flaviviral infections, and are hoping to develop a vaccine that targets natural killer . They believe that a similar process could be used to target cancer.

Professor Khakoo added: "Cancer treatments that use the body's own immune system are becoming more common. Our findings present a completely new strategy for virus therapeutics which could be easily translated into the field of cancer. The next few years are going to be very exciting in this field."

Explore further: Researchers solve the structure of the Zika virus helicase

More information: KIR2DS2 recognizes conserved peptides derived from viral helicases in the context of HLA-C. Naiyer et al. Science Immunology (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aal5296

Related Stories

Researchers solve the structure of the Zika virus helicase

May 20, 2016
A team led by researchers from Tianjin University (P.R. China) has solved the structure of the Zika virus helicase, which is a key target for antiviral development. The research is published in Springer's journal Protein ...

Cracking the mystery of Zika virus replication

July 26, 2016
Zika virus has now become a household word. It can cause microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby's head is smaller than usual. Additionally, it is associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that could ...

More evidence that Zika mRNA vaccines can stop viral replication in mice

February 17, 2017
Vaccine developers have successfully protected mice against Zika by injecting synthetic messenger RNA that encodes for virus proteins into the animals. The cells of the mice then build parts of the virus, training the immune ...

Prior dengue or yellow fever exposure does not worsen Zika infection in monkeys

August 4, 2017
Rhesus macaques previously infected with dengue or yellow fever viruses appear to be neither more nor less susceptible to severe infection with Zika virus, according to new research published in PLOS Pathogens.

Team makes strides in fight against Zika

November 15, 2016
There's a war raging on a tiny battlefield and the outcome could well touch millions of people worldwide threatened by Zika and related viruses. The key ally unlocking the mystery surrounding this conflict is the long-dreaded ...

Zika virus blindfolds immune alarm cells

February 2, 2017
Gatekeeper immune cells are fighting Zika virus with an arm tied behind their backs, scientists from Emory Vaccine Center report.

Recommended for you

A synthetic approach to helping the immune system thwart infections

February 22, 2018
Yale researchers have developed a set of synthetic molecules that may help boost the strength of a key, virus-fighting protein.

Scientists find molecular link between Vitamin A derivative and mouse intestinal health

February 22, 2018
New research shows that all-trans-retinoic acid (atRA), the active form of vitamin A, regulates immune system responses in the mouse intestine by controlling expression of the protein HIC1 in cells known as innate lymphoid ...

Animal study shows how to retrain the immune system to ease food allergies

February 21, 2018
Treating food allergies might be a simple matter of teaching the immune system a new trick, researchers at Duke Health have found.

Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

February 20, 2018
The first treatment to help prevent serious allergic reactions to peanuts may be on the way. A company said Tuesday that its daily capsules of peanut powder helped children build tolerance in a major study.

'Icebreaker' protein opens genome for T cell development, researchers find

February 20, 2018
Almost all cells in the human body have identical DNA sequences, yet there are 200-plus cell types with different sizes, shapes, and chemical compositions. Determining what parts of the genome are read to make protein and ...

Infection site affects how a virus spreads through the body

February 20, 2018
A person is more likely to get infected by HIV through anal intercourse than vaginal, but no one knows quite why. A new study by scientists at the Gladstone Institutes shows that infection sites could affect the immune system's ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrrander
1 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2017
DDT was introduced in the 50's on a large-scale. By the 60's. it had eradicated malaria entirely in Greece and had lessened deaths from malaria in Africa and Asia by hundreds of thousands. Then the bird-egg worriers decided to ban it. Since then, over 40 million Africans and Asians have died of malaria and sleeping sickness. Over a few bird eggs.

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.