A team led by Dr Chris Overall from UBC’s Department of Oral Biological and Medical Sciences and Dr Bruce McManus from UBC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine has uncovered an intricate chain reaction in the body’s immune system and developed a new treatment against viruses. A key element to this natural immune response is an antiviral protein in the blood called Interferon alpha.
The team discovered that an enzyme called MMP12 serves double duty in the deployment of the critical antiviral protein: it enters the infected cell to activate Interferon alpha and then sends it outside the cell membrane to fight viruses. After Interferon alpha does its job, MMP12 dissolves the protein during the healing process. The new antiviral drug blocks MMP12 from dissolving Interferon alpha outside the cell, giving the immune system an added boost by keeping levels of the protein high in the bloodstream. The drug cannot penetrate cell membranes, making it unable to interfere with the beneficial work inside the cell.
The drug holds promise as a new broad-spectrum antiviral treatment. The related study, “A New Transcriptional Role for Matrix Metalloproteinase-12 in Antiviral Immunity,” is published in the May 2014 issue of Nature Medicine and is available online at www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ nm.3508.html.
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