Thursday, November 3, 2011

And we have yet to discover so much more about our amazing immune system...

We all know that when the human body becomes infected with a new virus, the immune system is rapidly activated in order to build a response to the intruding pathogen. In the case of the Influenza viruses, a sort of "inborn" protective mechanism is generated by the immune system that helps to fight the virus. Very recently, a new component of this mechanism, a protein called "Mx" (which stands for Myxovirus resistance), has been added to the definition of this immune response.
As we have seen with new strains influenza viruses in the past, such as with the H5N1 bird flu virus or the swine flu virus, these types of viruses have the property of "jumping" from humans to animals at a surprising pace, making it very difficult to control their spread. Although as humans we do not possess any sort of pre-exisiting immunity to these viruses, our immune system is able to rapidly generate a defense mechanism to prevent influenza viruses to replicate and proliferate uncontrollably in the body.
The protein Mx has been described as playing a crucial role in this process, through maintaining the spread of the viruses under control. The exact mechanism through which this protein accomplishes this task was previously unknown, but has recently been described by virologists from the Institute of Medical Microbiology at the Freiburg University Medical Center and biochemists from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch, Germany. These researchers have, through building a molecular and atomic-level model of the protein, discovered that Mx is a molecular machine that develops its power when all the individual molecules have joined each other to form a ring-like network. A central element of the formation of these ring structures is the special part of Mx known as the stalk, which functions similarly to a "clamp", restricting and deactivating the components of the influenza virus in the infected cell. How are these Mx proteins activated in the first place? Their production has been linked to signals received from interferons, which as we know, are proteins released by cells upon infection with a pathogen. Thus under normal conditions, the protective Mx protein is not found in our healthy, virus-lacking cells.

These new findings about the Mx protein could revolutionize the treatment against influenza viruses, and researchers truly believe that they will form the basis for the formation of new antiviral drugs and for the understanding of other members of this family of proteins.

Read more here!

- Julie Saffarian

No comments: