'Trojan Horse’ of immune system revealed

30 July 2015. Source: Oxford University

A research team at Oxford University studied the detection of a virus after it enters a cell in the body by a protein known as cGAS. They discovered that as part of this mechanism, as some viruses replicate within the cell they incorporate cGAMP – a signalling molecule that activates the immune system – which can prompt an immune response:  

Scientists already knew that when a virus containing or producing DNA enters a cell in the body it is detected by a protein called cGAS. This in turn produces a small signalling molecule called cGAMP which acts as what’s known as a second messenger, activating other elements of the body's immune response. Now, the Oxford team have discovered that as some viruses replicate, they incorporate cGAMP, meaning that as they infect new cells the cGAMP immediately prompts an immune response.

The Oxford team are now investigating whether the research could be used to improve a class of vaccines. Viral vectored vaccines are genetically engineered virus particles designed to prompt an immune response against particular diseases. The researchers will look at whether by loading these particles with cGAMP it is possible to stimulate a bigger immune response, making such vaccines more effective.

The paper describing this research, Viruses transfer the antiviral second messenger cGAMP between cellsis published in Science Express.