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Battling pathogenic pirates

How cells detect influenza, rabies and other viruses

Munich, 02/01/2008

Viruses are rather economical pathogens: They use higher cells for reproduction by reprogramming them. To achieve this, viruses inject their own hereditary information into the involuntary hosts. This invasion cannot easily be detected because most viruses store their genes in RNA molecules which also play an important role in the metabolism of higher cells. The challenge here is to distinguish pathogenic from cellular RNA. The protein RIG-I plays an important role in this process by sensing viral RNAs and activating an immune response. An international team of researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München under the lead of Professor Karl-Peter Hopfner has been able to determine the crystal structure of this protein. As reported in the science journal Molecular Cell they found that one specific domain of the protein binds viral RNAs and recognizes so-called 5’-triphosphates, a modification that arises from RNA synthesis by many viruses but is not usually found on cellular RNA. In case this regulatory domain detects pathogenic RNA it initiates dimerization of two RIG-I proteins – probably the first step in the activation of an immune response. RIG-I senses different types of viruses, among them the Hepatitis C virus, the influenza virus and the rabies virus.


”The C-Terminal Regulatory Domain Is the RNA 5‘-Triphosphate Sensor of RIG-I”,
Sheng Cui, Katharina Eisenächer, Axel Kirchhofer, Krzysztof Brzózka, Alfred Lammens, Katja Lammens, Takashi Fujita, Karl-Klaus Conzelmann, Anne Krug and Karl-Peter Hopfner,
Molecular Cell, February 1, 2008, Vol. 29, pp. 1-11
DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2007.10.032


Professor Dr. Karl-Peter Hopfner
Gene Center at LMU Munich
Tel.: +49-89 - 2180-76953
Fax: +49-89 -2180-76999


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