Rebecca Lane, a student in the Molecular Immunology and Microbiology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program recently won 1st place for her oral presentation “Neuropilin-1 is an Essential Host Factor for MCMV Infection” at the 7th Annual Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio Conference.
The conference, which took place in November, unites researchers from Texas Biomedical Research Institute, The University of Texas San Antonio, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Southwest Research Institute.
Lane works in the lab of Dr. William Kaiser whose lab focuses on the role of programmed cell death as a pathway to stop viral infections. Initially, she set off looking for novel mediators for cell death but was surprised when her results uncovered factors required for early stages of viral infection. The lab has shown that one of these factors is a potential entry receptor for the herpes virus cytomegalovirus (CMV) which is closely related to herpes simplex virus (HSV), the causative agent of oral and genital herpes.
According to the World Health Organization, over half of the adult population is infected with CMV by age 40. After initial infection, the virus becomes latent in the body and will persist for life.
“CMV passes through any bodily fluid like saliva and urine so kids pass it pretty readily to each other and to adults. Although CMV affects the majority of the world’s population, most healthy people don’t show symptoms. Major issues happen when babies are born with CMV, or when an immunocompromised individual is infected. One of the most common clinical cases of CMV infection is in organ transplant recipients. Because your immune system is suppressed during an organ transplant, the virus often re-activates and grows rampantly. Ultimately, these cases frequently end in allograft failure and death of the patient.”
Lane’s research is important because there is currently no vaccine for CMV and researchers don’t have a good grasp on how to prevent infection. Understanding how the virus enters could help these studies. The search for the entry receptor for CMV has been muddled by complications and a consensus is only just now beginning to emerge. Different cell surface proteins are thought to be needed for entry of the virus into different tissue types and while the literature supported PDGFRaas one of these receptors, the other has remained unknown. The entry receptor identified by the Kaiser lab could fill this gap. Not only does this represent a potential target to block infections, but it will be a major aid to a broad range of CMV investigations.
“The more you know about the virus, the more tools you have to manipulate it and the more you can do.”
Lane and colleagues are currently working on uncovering the mechanics of how the newly-discovered receptor mediates entry.