Innate immunity and viral evasion
If a virus attacks us, our immune system registers this attack and starts a whole chain of reactions. Messengers initiate the release of cellular proteins, through which our cells prevent the spread of viruses – known as antiviral factors. However, some viruses have developed very effective strategies against these antiviral factors, so that the self-protection mechanism of the cells is ultimately insufficient to defend against the infection. Wanted: new antiviral factors which can fight off even these viruses – of which HIV is one.
If we are infected by a virus, we feel unwell, have a slightly raised temperature, perhaps aching limbs – in short, we feel ill. However, before we can perceive these symptoms, our cells must have noticed the virus since the symptoms of disease are not caused directly by viruses but by the reactions of our innate immune system. It detects viruses and subsequently releases messengers: interferons.
The interferons send a danger signal to the cells and production of the cells’ own antiviral proteins begins. However, the mechanisms through which our cells sense the viral attackers are not yet known. Even in the case of HIV infections, our cells defend themselves very rapidly against the virus but, in turn, the virus has sophisticated strategies to avoid the host cell defence.
The research group “Innate immunity and viral evasion” is investigating the interplay between host cell and virus: the scientists are studying how cells register that they are infected by viruses and which alarm mechanisms are then activated. They are also looking for cellular proteins through which our cells prevent viruses from multiplying – known as antiviral factors. Indeed, not only for HIV but also for other viruses which circumvent the immune system equally skilfully, such as the hepatitis C virus.