Study focuses on 'virus-eye' view of immunity


WHEN A virus gets into a human cell, how does the cell react? A new international study involving Trinity College Dublin has captured a “virus-eye” view of that response to get a better understanding of how our immune system works.

In a type of molecular fishing expedition, the researchers took 70 genes from various viruses and put them like bait into human cells in the lab.

This led to virus proteins being expressed in the cells and then the researchers could fish out which human proteins interacted with the virus proteins.

The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Nature, “caught” more than 570 protein interactions that now stand to give us a better insight into the early response of the immune system, according to researcher Prof Andrew Bowie from the school of biochemistry and immunology in the Trinity biomedical sciences institute.

He and Dr Orla Mulhern were funded by Science Foundation Ireland as part of an international team led by Austrian researchers on the large-scale study, which used viral genes as bait rather than using whole viruses to challenge the cells.

“Because viruses are so complicated it’s quite hard to work out what they do if you look at how cells respond to the whole virus.

“The approach we often take is to put the individual genes in and work out what they are doing and then relate that back to the virus.

“If you insert the genes into the human cells in the correct way, then the proteins get expressed and you can basically ask which human proteins are these viral proteins targeting when they get into the cell,” said Prof Bowie.

“What we saw represents, we think, real interactions that happen during a viral infection when these genes would get expressed.”

The analysis identified several new aspects of the immune reaction to viruses and could pave the way to finding new therapeutic approaches to dampening or boosting the immune response as needed, according to Prof Bowie.

“By looking at the human cell from the viruses’s point of view and asking what do viruses go after in the cell, that can lead to new discoveries,” Prof Bowie said.

“Viruses know more about the immune response than we do – they have been dealing with it in living cells for millions of years.”