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Single protein is key in response to bacterial, viral infections

A single protein acts as a key switch point in frontline immune system reactions to both bacterial and viral infections, according to a report published online today in the journal Nature. In determining how this protein functions, a team of scientists supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) can now explain why certain symptoms, such as fever, occur regardless of the cause of infection.

Bruce Beutler, M.D., of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, who led the team, says, "This protein, Trif, stands at a crossroads in the mouse innate immune system and, by inference, we believe in the human immune system as well." A clear understanding of Trif's role in sparking inflammation gives scientists an obvious target for drugs designed to combat the runaway inflammation characteristic of many infectious and immune-mediated diseases.

Mammals, including humans, employ a family of proteins (called toll-like receptors, or TLRs) in first-line defense against bacteria and viruses. One protein, TLR-3, is activated by viruses, while another, TLR-4, responds to molecules frequently contained in bacterial cell walls. The TLRs are an important part of the innate immune system, the all-purpose "first-responder" arm of the immune system. Once activated by invading pathogens, TLRs relay the alarm to other actors in the immune system. In short order, the innate immune system responds with a surge of chemicals that together cause inflammation, fever and other responses to infection or injury.

Defining the intervening steps in the signaling pathway from TLR activation to inflammatory response is an important objective of Dr. Beutler's research. Previously, scientists had discovered a "transducer" protein responsible for passing on the news of a bacterial attack. Mice lacking this protein could still fight bacterial infection, although not very well. There had to be at least one more transducer protein.

Dr. Beutl
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Contact: Anne A. Oplinger
aoplinger@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
20-Jul-2003


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