Scientists unravel how smallpox virus sabotages our immune system

May 12th, 2009 - 4:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 12 (IANS) Researchers are closing in on how smallpox virus go about their deadly business of sabotaging our immune system.
These findings may reveal as much about our immune system as they do about one of the world’s most feared pathogens.

Scientists tracked proteins the pox virus generated in concert with human proteins, and stumbled on a particular interaction that disables one of the body’s first responders to injury - inflammation.

“This virus that has killed more humans than any other contains secrets about how the human immune system works,” said Grant McFadden, professor of molecular genetics at the College of Medicine, University of Florida (UF).

“I’m always amazed at how sophisticated these pathogens are, and every time we look, they have something new to teach us about the human immune system.”

Smallpox accounted for 300 million deaths in the 20th century alone, and outbreaks have occurred almost continuously for thousands of years.

The disease was eradicated by a worldwide vaccination campaign, and the last case of smallpox in the US was in 1949, according to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC).

Researchers from the Universities of Alberta and Florida, CDC and Myriad Genetics, for the first time, systematically screened smallpox proteome, the entire complement of new proteins produced by the virus, during interactions with proteins from human DNA.

These protein-on-protein interactions resulted in a particularly devastating pairing between a viral protein called G1R and a protein called human nuclear factor kappa-B1.

The latter is believed to play a role in the growth and survival of both healthy cells and cancer cells by activating genes involved in immune responses and inflammation, said a Florida release.

“One of the strategies of the virus is to inhibit inflammation pathways, and this interaction is an inhibitor of human inflammation such that we have never seen before,” McFadden said.

“This helps explain some of the mechanisms that contribute to smallpox. But that inflammation can sometimes be harmful or deadly to people, and we may learn a way to inhibit more dangerous inflammation from this virus.”

These findings are slated for online publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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