A synthetic approach to helping the immune system thwart infections

A synthetic approach to helping the immune system thwart infections
A diagram of the RIG-I protein. Credit: Yale University

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

The protein, RIG-I, is an important sensor in the immune system of humans and other animals. It recognizes and responds to viral RNA by surrounding it, latching onto it, and launching the immune system into action.

The Yale team, led by biologists Anna Pyle and Akiko Iwasaki, has designed that jump-start the process. These synthetic, stem-loop RNA (SLR) molecules can be visualized as short cords with a knot at one end. The configuration enables the SLRs to bind with RIG-I molecules in a way that prompts an aggressive response.

"When you tickle RIG-I with this small, RNA hairpin, it alerts the body that it's time to respond," said Pyle, professor of molecular, cellular, and , and of chemistry, at Yale, and co-corresponding author of a study published online Feb. 21 in the journal Science Advances.

"This gives us a tool that can help with everything from the design of better vaccines to better antivirals and anti-cancer therapies," Pyle said.

The new study represents the first time scientists have been able to specifically manipulate and analyze the RIG-I biosensor in a living animal—in this case, mice. The Yale researchers said further study is needed in order to gauge the potential for developing new drugs for everything from flu to various forms of cancer.

"I was shocked to see how potent this small RNA molecule is in stimulating antiviral interferon responses in mice. For its specificity and potency, we now use SLR for all of our RIG-I research in the lab," said Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology and of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, and co-corresponding author of the study.

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More information: Melissa M. Linehan et al. A minimal RNA ligand for potent RIG-I activation in living mice, Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701854
Journal information: Science Advances

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Mar 06, 2018
It would have to be synthetic! Scientists are fond of synthetics, not so keen on natural remedies provided by nature.
The immune system can be rebooted/fine tuned, if depressed and ineffective, by echinacea root, tablets of which are now available in pharmacies and health shops.
Thiryy years ago I suffered from constant colds and recurring flu, which almost always led to bronchitis, I took a large dose of echinacea daily for two weeks, then a small dose for a few more weeks, then stopped taking it. I have not had a cold or flu or bronshitis since. All around me can be coughing, spluttering and wheezing, and I get nothing. Also, cuts and other wounds never become infected, but heal quickly, usually in 2-3 days. I don't suffer any contagions or anything else where the immune system protects.
Oh and I'm 77, and unlike many this age am fit and healthy, apart from back pain, the result of too many hours hunched at a computer working.

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