The on-line map, part of a project called Reactome, is intended to teach scientists about parts of the influenza lifecycle they might not be familiar with, and to help researchers look at specific reactions and figure out ways to block them.
"Understanding how influenza reacts with its host is really critical for the rational design of anti-viral drugs and new vaccines," said Dr. Richard Scheuermann, professor of pathology at UT Southwestern.
Reactome, online at www.reactome.com, was created in 2004 and includes a variety of biochemical pathways for processes such as cell death in several species, primarily human.
Individual reactions are shown as separate items, which are linked by arrows to associated reactions. The diagrams resemble constellations; hence the "starry sky" nickname.
The influenza pathway component and a simultaneous HIV database going online mark the first time Reactome has displayed interactions between an infectious pathogen and its host, Dr. Scheuermann said.
Pathogens such as influenza have evolved to use hosts to promote their growth, while at the same time blocking the host reactions that recognize and respond to infection. Each year, for example, winter is marked by the outbreak of flu caused by new viruses that the human immune system doesn't recognize.
The new Reactome influenza database outlines a typical virus life cycle, which will be updated as more research becomes available.
"In the future, the goal is to build out all of the host-pathogen reactions," Dr. Scheuermann said.
UT Southwestern's participation was part of the BioHealthBase Bioinformatics Resource Center project, a collaboration between Dr. Scheuermann's lab and a bioinformatics software engine ering team at Northrop Grumman Information Technology funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Reactome is an NIH-funded collaboration between Dr. Lincoln Stein's laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and the laboratory of Dr. Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, in Hinxton, UK.