Protein study suggests ways to help humans thwart viruses

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Scientists have unraveled a genetic anomaly that protects some mice from a common cancer-causing virus.

The findings may help develop gene therapies that can be used to help humans defeat similar viruses, such as the human T-cell leukemia virus and the AIDS virus, says David A. Sanders, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue University and lead author of the study.

Sanders and his research group at Purdue analyzed proteins in mice that are resistant to the ecotropic murine leukemia virus, a major cancer-causing virus that occurs only in mice. A very similar virus is the agent of feline leukemia, the major cause of serious illness and death in cats.

Scientists have known for years that mice that have an active Fv-4 gene are resistant to the virus, though it wasn't clear how this resistance occurred.

Their findings show how a defective protein found in mice with the Fv-4 gene works by binding with the receptor that normally serves as a doorway for viral entry, and thereby blocking the door.

"The protein looks normal, and is processed normally and incorporated into virus particles, but it is unable to promote viral entry," Sanders says. "By identifying the defect in this mouse protein and introducing it into another virus, we have found a potential new avenue for preventing viruses from entering cells."

Sanders says the method may someday be applied to block similar viruses, which belong in a class known as retroviruses. Retroviruses are a major group of cancer-causing viruses that use a unique production method to copy and insert their genetic material into a host cell.

Human cells also contain specialized receptors for retrovirus entry, Sanders says.

"Such receptors are often very specific," he says. "We know, for example, that people who don't have the receptor for HIV are resistant to HIV."

His research group is now working to apply knowledge of how this g

Contact: Susan Gaidos
Purdue University

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