A multi-institutional team of researchers led by Jae Jung, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has received more than $10 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to investigate virus control mechanisms.
The team will explore the molecular mechanisms by which viruses, such as the influenza virus and Hepatitis C virus (HCV), evade the body’s immune responses.
Keck School researchers will receive $5 million from the grant.
The funding, to be dispersed over five years, marks the largest research center grant in this area and will bring together specialists in a number of disciplines, including cell biology, immunology and virology.
“This multi-project grant will attempt to delineate the molecular mechanisms underlying virus-host interactions to yield insights for the development of novel antiviral therapeutic interventions, as well as safe and effective vaccine,” Jung said.
USC investigators, including Jung, James Ou, Chengyu Liang and Aileen Calimlim, will focus on addressing how the host develops firsthand innate immune recognition and how viruses have evolved a number of mechanisms to thwart innate host defenses.
Much of Jung’s research has focused on the roles of RIG-I and TRIM25, host proteins that detect influenza virus and HCV genetic information and trigger an interferon (IFN)-mediated innate immune response that limits virus replication, as well as initiating a systemic host immune response, Jung explained.
The efficacy of the IFN responses has led to a number of viruses evolving various evasion strategies to counteract the host IFN system.
Ou’s study will attempt to understand how HCV interacts with host cells to evade intracellular innate immunity.
HCV is an emerging pathogen associated with hepatocellular carcinoma, the fifth most common cancer in the world.
The various strategies employed by HCV to establish chronic infections include the use of a viral compound to block the RIG-I pathway. This particular strategy is essential to the critical virulent mechanisms required to evade the host anti-viral response, resulting in severe liver disease.
“We are beginning to understand how host innate immune machineries recognize viral infections and how viruses escape host innate immunity,” Jung said. “This is a major investigation to understand how to enhance innate immunity and block viral infections.”
The project includes researchers from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
More stories about: Medicine