MAY 20, 2020 11:04 AM PDT

Researchers Detect a Vulnerability in Viruses

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Myriad organisms share this planet, and there is an ongoing evolutionary arms race between competing traits or species. Viruses are constantly improving ways to infect host cells, for example, and evade the host immune system, which can do some adapting of its own to mount a defense against these invaders. Many viruses are not serious enough to cause more than a mild illness like a cold, so if we can't fight them off immediately, they don't pose much of a threat. But the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the significant challenges posed by a virus that we don't know much about and have no treatment or vaccine for.

Researchers have now learned more about how viruses fight the immune system. In this work, reported in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the scientists studied the tactics used by the herpes simplex virus to get around the immune system and infect the brain. The findings may help us develop new antiviral drugs.

It's thought that as many as 90 percent of adults will be infected by the herpes simplex virus 1 in their lifetime. The virus infects cells in the throat, enabling it to eventually move to nerve cells called trigeminal ganglia, where it stays for life. The virus can reactivate at any time and cause mild symptoms. Herpes infections have recently been linked to Alzheimer's disease as well. If the virus enters the brain it can cause a type of encephalitis (described in the video below), and the swelling and inflammation that results can cause severe damage.

It seems that the herpes virus can interfere with the immune response. "In the study, we found that the herpes simplex virus is capable of inhibiting a protein in the cells, known as STING, which is activated when there is a threat. When STING is inhibited, the body's immune system is also inhibited - the virus thereby puts the brakes on the body's brake, which is supposed to prevent us from becoming ill. Other viruses also make use of the same principle," explained virologist and professor Søren Riis Paludan of the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, Denmark.

The STING (Stimulator of interferon genes) protein is able to sense DNA from bacteria and viruses. Once it does, it can activate the immune system.

While this work investigated herpes virus, it has parallels to the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2, noted Søren Riis Paludan; other viruses inhibit the same protein.

"This suggests that we have found an Achilles heel in the virus and the way it establishes infections in the body. Our results lead us to hope that if we can prevent viruses from blocking STING, then we can prevent the virus from replicating. That could pave the way for new principles for [the] treatment of herpes, influenza and also the coronavirus," said Søren Riis Paludan.

"Previous studies have also shown that the coronavirus inhibits STING in the same way as the herpes virus. This suggests that we have found a common denominator for several types of virus, and that this is probably an important element in the development of treatment," he added.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Aarhus University, Journal of Experimental Medicine

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAR 16, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 16, 2020
How the Genetic Material in Sperm is Unpacked During Fertilization
The genetic material from a sperm and an egg merges to form a new human genome, and now we know more details about the p ...
MAR 18, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 18, 2020
Finding a Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
When developing fetuses are exposed to any amount of alcohol, they are at risk for a variety of irreversible birth defec ...
MAR 26, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAR 26, 2020
A Large Cavity is Discovered in a Tuberculosis Protein
Scientists have discovered something very unusual about a protein that is thought to be important to the development of ...
APR 13, 2020
Microbiology
APR 13, 2020
Even Bacteria Align With the Daily Cycle of Day and Night
The majority of living organisms on Earth have adapted in some way to the daily cycle of night and day.
APR 21, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 21, 2020
Considerations for Lab Managers in Choosing a Microplate Reader
In today's high-tech, digitized laboratory environments, nobody pays very much attention to the humble plastic micro ...
MAY 16, 2020
Neuroscience
MAY 16, 2020
Stem Cell Method (Parkinson's) Could Avoid Transplant Rejection
Researchers at McLean Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have tested a stem cell treatment method that av ...
Loading Comments...