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Gene with key role in replicating pox viruses also halts inflammation

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying vaccinia virus, a close relative of smallpox, have determined that a gene necessary for virus replication also has a key role in turning off inflammation, a crucial anti-viral immune response of host cells.

The discovery, reported this month in the Journal of Virology, potentially broadens the knowledge base of how all poxviruses cause disease and how they may be outwitted by improvements in vaccines against them, said Joanna L. Shisler, a professor of microbiology in the College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign.

"If we can find out how the virus evades immune responses and learn more about the signals the virus sees as necessary for replicating within the host cell, then we can figure out how to inhibit them and halt the viral replication," she said.

Post 9-11 fears of bioterrorism by means of the deliberate introduction of smallpox have spawned renewed interest in new, safer vaccines against the deadly disease, which was eradicated as a naturally occurring danger in 1977. Some U.S. medical workers and military personnel have received vaccinations made of the live vaccinia virus, but while this tamer relative of smallpox normally doesn't cause disease, complications, including death, are possible especially among immune-compromised individuals.

The vaccinia virus genome is 97 percent genetically identical to the smallpox genome, making it an ideal model virus to use in the laboratory to understand how smallpox and other dangerous poxviruses function, Shisler said.

In their research, Shisler and Xiao-Lu Jin, a research specialist in microbiology, found that a 5.2 kb segment of vaccinia virus DNA containing six genes was responsible for inhibiting a key cellular transcription factor called NF kappa B (NF-kB).

NF-kB serves to turn on other host cell genes involved in anti-viral immune responses and inflammation.

The researchers
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
6-Apr-2004


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