Australian researchers discover new viral gene behaviors

Researchers from Australia have made discoveries of viral gene behavior that could aid in the development of vaccines.

Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne and Cambridge University have been studying the way the immune system responds to chronic or persistent infections and why it is unable to eliminate them, according to

“Chronic infections are one of the greatest health challenges for the Western world, but currently we have very few ways of dealing with them,” Dr. Gabrielle Belz of the Melbourne Institute said, according to “They require ongoing medical care and support due to an inability to treat infection effectively.”

In the progress of their work, they discovered that a viral gene called K3 that disables dendritic cells and causes the immune system to fail.

Dendritic cells are the so-called sentinels of the immune system, reports. The cells are critical for the early detection of invading bacteria and viruses and are one of the first to trigger an immune response.

”We are trying to understand how chronic infections sneak past the usually highly effective immune armory and covertly establish disease,” Belz said, reports. “If we can stop these infections establishing then we can eliminate, or substantially reduce, that societal burden.”

The team has been investigating a virus called gamma herpesvirus-68 that is used to simulate the workings of the human gamma herpesvirus Epstein-Barr, known to cause mononucleosis. The team has been able to show that the K3 gene rapidly disrupts the antigen processing machinery normally used b dendritic cells to alert the immune system to the presence of an infection.

The research shows that the virus’s ability to evade the body’s immune system is taken advantage of early on, according to The dendritic cells are compromised well before they have a chance to stimulate an immune response.

In the future, an effective vaccine would have to look at the early behavior of a virus in the body to try to find a means of preventing it from establishing an infection.