QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientists have worked out how the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) eludes our immune response.
Dr Judy Tellam, a senior researcher in the Tumour Immunology group, led the international team which identified how the virus persists as a latent infection.
“We’ve always known that EBV maintains some of its proteins at such a low level that our immune system doesn’t kick in to destroy the virus,” Dr Tellam said.
“Effectively, the virus flies below our immunity’s radar.
“What this study has found is exactly how that process works – how a particular viral protein known as EBNA1 maintains that careful balance by limiting its own synthesis levels. It means the virus remains alive, while eluding our immune cells.”
Epstein-Barr virus infects more than 90% of the world’s population and is linked to a number of cancers including Burkitt’s lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Hodkin’s lymphoma.
There are currently no vaccines to prevent EBV and other herpes virus-associated cancers.
“But this work provides a new target for the development of potential therapies, by showing us we can tackle EBV from a new angle.”
This research also involved scientists from the University of Cambridge (UK), the John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU) and Monash University.
Dr Tellam was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant and supported by a NHMRC Career Development Award Fellowship.
This paper is the cover story in the current edition of Nature Chemical Biology and can be viewed at http://www.nature.com/nchembio/journal/v10/n5/full/nchembio.1479.html