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Molecular 'signature' protects cells from viruses

ong string. In viruses there is a specific chemical signal, known as a triphosphate, located at one end of this string. The RNA in the cell's nucleus basically also contains this triphosphate end. However, on top of it there is an additional short molecule, a molecular cap. 'In all animals and plants the RNA which encodes proteins has this kind of molecular signature,' Dr. Veit Hornung and Professor Stefan Endres of the Munich University Clinic's Department of Clinical Pharmacology emphasise. 'Apart from other functions it is also the signal that shows that the cell's own RNA is involved.'

However, in all cells there are also RNAs which do not have a molecular cap. 'Despite this they do not result in an immune reaction,' Dr. Hornung says. 'They sign their commands in a different way, viz. by means of a complex biochemical process which takes place in a special sub-structure of the cell's nucleus, known as the nucleolus.' These RNAs do not store information, being responsible for important tasks in 'assembling' the proteins.

Importance for therapy

The fact that RNAs without a 'signature' stimulate an immune reaction and initiate cell suicide opens up completely new perspectives for the therapy of virus infections and cancer cases: for example, RNA chains with a triphosphate end could be produced and fed into cancer cells. This could also trigger an anti-viral immune response. 'Our findings are also important for gene therapy,' Professor Hartmann stresses. 'Before we attempt to cure diseases by introducing genetic material, we ought to understand precisely how the cells react to this genetic material.'
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Source:University of Bonn


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