Zika virus has a trick up its sleeve. Once inside the body, the virus likes to make a bee line for dendritic cells, the cells we rely on to launch an effective immune response.
“Dendritic cells are major cells of the innate immune system,” says LJI Professor Sujan Shresta, Ph.D., a member of the LJI Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research. “How is this virus so clever that it’s able to establish infection in cells that would normally fight infections?”
Now Shresta and colleagues at LJI and the University of California, San Diego, have found that Zika virus actually forces dendritic cells to stop acting as immune cells. Using a new model of Zika virus infection, the LJI team showed that Zika virus instead makes dendritic cells churn out lipid molecules, which the virus uses to build copies of itself.
“Here are dendritic cells doing everything to help a virus,” says Shresta.
The Nature Communications study is a major step forward in the Shresta Lab’s work to guide the design of new antiviral therapies against many members of the Flavivirus family, including Zika, dengue, and Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV).
“Understanding how viruses interact with human cells is critical for understanding how to treat or prevent infection in the future,” says UC San Diego Professor Aaron Carlin, M.D., Ph.D., a former trainee in the Shresta Lab and co-leader of the new study.
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