MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Researchers: Telomeres may be key to fighting diseases

Dr. Paul Lieberman and other researchers found that telomere manipulation might be a way to fight viruses. | Contributed photo

Researchers said Thursday they have discovered that rearranging pieces of DNA called telomeres helps diseases such as herpes flourish and may be key to fighting such illnesses in the future.

Telomeres are protective agents for chromosomes. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) uses these protective telomeres to spread its infection. Scientists hope to use this information to further understand and fight diseases such as HSV-1.

Biology instructors sometimes draw an analogy between telomeres and the clear tips of protective plastic at the ends of shoelaces; telomeres protect vital genetic information from breaking and fraying, which would render them unable to replicate genetic information.

“We know that telomeres play a very important part in the lifespan of a cell,” Dr. Paul Lieberman, program leader of the Gene Expression and Regulation Program at the Wistar Institute, said. “We wanted to know whether they also play a role in either viral replication or protection from viruses, and our findings suggest -- at least in the case of the herpes simplex virus -- that this may indeed be the case.”

Leiberman and his team, consisting of many other researchers from many institutions, studied HSV-1 to further understand the role of telomeres. There are no vaccines and few treatments to treat HSV-1, which causes common cold sores, but can also result in encephalitis and blindness.

When HSV-1 inhibits the production of a telomere protein called TPP1, the virus replicates at an even faster rate. The virus also implements a replication protein known as ICP8 to further inhibit proteins from telomeres; this enables the virus to replicate its own viral genes even faster.

Researchers concluded that telomeres may be key to creating an immune response to viruses.

“This study expands our knowledge of telomeres further in two very important ways,” Lieberman said. “First, it gives us an indication that some viruses are able to manipulate telomeres specifically in order to replicate. Second, it appears that proteins like TPP1 provide very specific protective functions. These findings allow us to ask additional questions and better understand just how telomeres may protect cells from viral infection.”

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Wistar Institute 3601 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19104

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