U.K.-Swiss team uncovers poxvirus immunosuppressing protein mechanisms

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

July 14, 2022 -- Poxviruses, such as monkeypox and smallpox, infect a host by delivering a package of proteins that directly interferes with the body’s immune system even before it has begun to replicate, using proteins specifically designed to target key components of a host’s immune response.

That's the finding of a new paper, published on July 14 in PLOS Pathogens, by researchers at the University of Birmingham and ETH Zurich who identified these proteins, revealing the molecular mechanisms with the potential for developing antipoxvirus treatments.

"Our current arsenal of pox antiviral agents is limited and only available for emergency use, so new antiviral treatments would be extremely valuable. Our research identifies a highly unusual ability to bring immunosuppressing proteins into the host right at the start of the infection. By understanding what proteins the virus brings and how they work, we can start to investigate how to exploit them for new treatments," said Jason Mercer, PhD, co-lead researcher and professor of virus cell biology at the University of Birmingham, in a statement.

Using mass spectrometry-based proteotyping and super-resolution microscopy, the researchers identified and characterized relevant proteins in vaccinia virus (the smallpox vaccine), which is a member of the same virus family as the monkeypox virus and the smallpox virus, variola.

The U.K.-Swiss research team, which identified 15 new proteins within the viral delivery packets called lateral bodies, plan to test the protein mechanisms in animal models to find out how they work individually and together to combat the host immune response.

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