July 26, 2018
By uncovering how some killer viruses beat our immune system, scientists partly funded by the Lupus Research Alliance have identified a potential new way to treat lupus.
The viruses that cause Lassa fever and other similar diseases kill thousands of people every year. One reason these viruses are deadly is that they shut down the body’s production of interferon-1, a molecule that helps us fight off infections. Patients with lupus, in contrast, make too much interferon-1, which stimulates the immune system to attack their own cells.
Elina Zuniga, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, received a Novel Research Grant from the Lupus Research Alliance to investigate these viruses and determine how they interfere with interferon-1. She and her colleagues have discovered that one of the body’s proteins, DDX3, helps the viruses turn down cells’ production of interferon-1. Dr. Zuniga and her colleagues found that these viruses including the Lassa hemorrhagic fever virus poorly grow in genetically modified human cells that lack DDX3.
That finding suggests that if researchers can create drugs that regulate DDX3 as these viruses do, they could reduce interferon-1 levels in patients with lupus and treat the disease. The researchers published their findings recently in the journal PLoS Pathogens.