New biological research reveals how an invading virus hijacks a cell's workings by imitating a signaling marker to defeat the body's defenses. By manipulating cell signals, the virus destroys a defensive protein designed to inhibit it. This finding, from studies in human cell cultures, may represent a broader targeting strategy used by other viruses, and may lay the scientific groundwork for developing more effective treatments for infectious diseases.
"Learning details of how cells respond to viruses helps us to understand key cellular machinery better," said study leader Matthew D. Weitzman, Ph.D., of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "This study tells us how a virus overcomes intrinsic host defenses. In this case the virus mimics signals used during normal DNA repair mechanisms."
The study team, formerly based at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., published their current findings online March 8 in Molecular Cell.
Biologists have long known that viruses hijack cellular processes to replicate themselves, while host cells have evolved intrinsic defense systems to resist viral invasion. To replicate, viruses must deliver their own DNA into a cell's nucleus, so a viral infection entails a conflict between two genomesthe DNA of the host cell versus the foreign DNA of the virus.
Viruses mount their attack by interacting with specific cell proteins as a way of penetrating the cell's defenses. "In this study, we asked how the herpes simplex virus finds the specific proteins that it interacts with," said Weitzman. "By describing the mechanism of this particular interaction between a virus and a cell protein, we have pinpointed key regulators of a cell's processes, and shed light on how a cell regulates its defenses."
This laboratory study focused on herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), a common human virus that results in recurre
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Children's Hospital of Philadelphia