Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers in Melbourne, Australia, have discovered how a key viral gene helps viruses evade early detection by the immune system. Their finding is providing new insights into how viruses are able to establish chronic infections, leading scientists to reevaluate their approaches to viral vaccine development.
Researchers from the institute's Immunology division together with collaborators at the University of Cambridge (UK) have been studying how the immune system responds to viruses that cause persistent or chronic infections and why the immune system is unable to eliminate these infections.
Dr Gabrielle Belz, Dr Adele Mount and colleagues are particularly interested in immune system cells called dendritic cells and their interaction with viruses that cause chronic infections.
"Chronic infections are one of the greatest health challenges for the Western world, but currently we have very few ways of dealing with them," Dr Belz said. "They require ongoing medical care and support due to an inability to treat infection effectively.
"We are trying to understand how chronic infections sneak past the usually highly effective immune armoury and covertly establish disease. If we can stop these infections establishing then we can eliminate, or substantially reduce, that societal burden."
Dendritic cells, which are studied by Dr Belz, Dr Mount and colleagues, act as 'sentinels' of the immune system; they are critical for the early detection of invading bacteria and viruses and are one of the first cells to trigger the immune response. "Dendritic cells are called 'antigen presenting cells'; they digest infectious agents into small fragments and shuttle these fragments to the outside of the cell where they are displayed to virus-specific killer T cells, helping to launch a full-blown immune response," Dr Belz said.
The team has been investigating a virus called gamma herpesvirus-
|Contact: Penny Fannin|
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute