JAN 28, 2017 10:23 AM PST

The Missing Link in the Immune "Home Security System"

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

The immune response to viruses includes a group of signaling proteins that act like a home security system in the body, warning nearby cells of an imminent viral infection. In a recent study from Trinity College Dublin, scientists implicated a protein involved in the process, new to the warning pathway but not new to known cellular processes in the body.

Our immune systems are constantly engaged in battling viral infections. Credit: Lisa Brown

In a new study published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, researchers confirmed that STAT3, or “signal transducer and activator of transcription 3,” is a significant part of the body’s antiviral response. Until now, STAT3 was only known to be a protein important for cell growth and apoptosis.

The home security system, more technically known as the interferon pathway, begins as part of the antiviral response when virally-infected cells produce interferon proteins. Interferon proteins, named for their ability to literally interfere with viral replication within host cells, warn neighboring cells of the infection, triggering a signaling pathway that scientists describe as being activated “like a series of dominos.”

At different points in the pathway, hundreds of immune molecules are produced, designed specifically to fulfill one purpose: destroy viruses. So if this multi-step antiviral response is in place to protect the body from viral infections, how do viruses still manage to be so detrimental to human health?

Over time, it seems that viruses have evolved in multiple ways to impede interferon signaling pathways in order to evade the immune response and replicate uninhibited. "We thought that since the Interferon signaling pathway enhances the immune response against viruses so effectively, viruses might have evolved means to block it - such a reality would explain why several viruses are so troublesome to defeat,” explained study leader Dr. Nigel Stevenson.

Stevenson’s and his team studied the interferon response to both hepatitis C virus (HCV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is where they eventually realized the involvement of STAT3. These and other viruses specifically target the interferon signaling pathway to avoid destruction by the immune system.

"For decades we have known that STAT3 is essential for healthy cell growth, but our new revelation identifies it for the first time as an essential anti-viral component in the Interferon signaling pathway,” Stevenson said. “In fact, we found that without STAT3, cells cannot fight the common Flu virus or the Pox vaccinia virus."

Stevenson hopes that these research findings will aid the development of new treatment options to help virally-infected patients “restore their natural immunity.” If scientists could discover ways to prevent viruses from thwarting the immune system by disturbing the interferon signaling pathway, they could bypass other more complicated antiviral approaches.

Sources: Trinity College Dublin, National Center for Biotechnology Information, MedlinePlus

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 01, 2021
Health & Medicine
Eppendorf Award 2022: Call for Entries
OCT 01, 2021
Eppendorf Award 2022: Call for Entries
Eppendorf Award 2022: Call for Entries The Eppendorf Award for Young European Investigators, endowed with 20,000 EUR, is ...
SEP 30, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Exosome delivery of an anti-HIV drug to the brain
SEP 30, 2021
Exosome delivery of an anti-HIV drug to the brain
The body has a remarkable ability to prevent foreign objects, such as toxins or other pathogens, from entering the brain ...
OCT 07, 2021
Health & Medicine
A School-based Approach to Combatting Adolescent Obesity
OCT 07, 2021
A School-based Approach to Combatting Adolescent Obesity
It should come as no surprise that obesity is a significant public health concern associated with astronomical economic ...
OCT 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Anti-seizure properties found in the Cannabinoid CBGA
OCT 15, 2021
Anti-seizure properties found in the Cannabinoid CBGA
A growing body of research suggests cannabis’s effectiveness in minimizing seizure activity, but a recent study hi ...
OCT 18, 2021
Health & Medicine
Emerging Research on Delta 8 THC
OCT 18, 2021
Emerging Research on Delta 8 THC
Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant. It is one of the more prominent compounds, bu ...
OCT 22, 2021
Health & Medicine
Galactic Cosmic Radiation Could Have Different Effects on Males and Females
OCT 22, 2021
Galactic Cosmic Radiation Could Have Different Effects on Males and Females
As commercial spaceflight becomes readily available, more and more people will have access to space. In decades past, on ...
Loading Comments...