Quick-Acting Protein Could Defend against Viral Infections

By Templeton, David | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Quick-Acting Protein Could Defend against Viral Infections


Templeton, David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When a virus enters a cell, the invasion is not welcome.

The cell goes into a defensive mode, with one particular gene expressing a protein whose long scientific name - oligoadenylate synthetases-like protein - is more easily referred to as OASL.

That protein and a few others are responsible for initiating a primitive, general immune response used by most living organisms including humans, to activate or up-regulate multiple immune- response genes while alerting surrounding cells of the viral invasion. Understanding the expression and workings of this protein holds potential for development of treatments or even vaccines against such RNA viral infections as hepatitis C and West Nile and possibly any form of influenza.

"Basically a lot of things happen in response to a virus infection," said Saumendra N. Sarkar, a doctor of molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's cancer virology program. "Just introduce foreign viral RNA and they react the same way. Three hundred genes get up-regulated and all contribute to protect against viral infection."

A University of Pittsburgh-based study, led by Mr. Sarkar and published last month in the journal Immunology, describes the function of OASL as a first line of cellular defense against viruses once they expel their RNA into cells' cytoplasm, which is the area surrounding the cell nucleus. Such viruses use RNA rather than DNA more simply to replicate themselves inside the cell, leading to cell death and eventual full infection.

Previous studies identified OASL as a protein with antiviral effects. But the Pitt-based study explains the process.

Very little OASL protein is present in cells. But the entrance of a virus causes a cell to produce interferons - another type of immune protein that cells release quickly to defend against viruses, bacteria or other pathogens. The interferons also induce OASL protein production. Both proteins work to activate 300 other genes to produce an immune response while also signaling surrounding cells about the viral attack. …

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