Researchers from Monash University and the University of Melbourne, both in Australia, have found a way to stop the rabies virus shutting down the body’s immune defense against it. In doing so, they have solved a key scientific puzzle and have laid the foundation for the development of new anti-rabies vaccines. Rabies kills an estimated 60,000 people a year, most of them in developing countries, overwhelmingly through dog bites. Dr Greg Moseley, from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), and Associate Professor Paul Gooley, from the Bio21 Institute were senior authors in the study, published in the November 12, 2019 issue of Cell Reports. The open-access article is titled “Structural Elucidation of Viral Antagonism of Innate Immunity at the STAT1 Interface.” “It’s been known for a long time that many viruses target the human protein STAT1 and related proteins to shut down the host’s immune defences, and it’s also assumed that this is very important for diseases,” Long-term rabies researcher Dr Moseley said. However, it was not known exactly how P-protein ¬– the main ”immune antagonist” of lyssaviruses including the rabies virus – takes hold of STAT1, due to a lack of direct structural data on STAT1 complexes with viral proteins. “The challenge was to produce the key proteins on the viral and host sides in a test tube and keep them stable so we could interrogate the interaction directly; this hadn’t been done before, at least not for the full-size human protein,” Dr Moseley said. The researchers then brought the two proteins together and, using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, showed the precise regions where the viral protein sticks onto STAT1 and holds onto it to keep it away from locations in the cell where it needs to be to activate the immune response.
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