IFIT fights pathogens, it may be able to combat immune system disorders

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The laboratory of Bhushan Nagar, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry at McGill, was the scene of a recent showdown between the human immune system and foreign RNA.

Hoping to track how defender proteins respond to pathogens, researchers in the laboratory set up a series of biophysical techniques, including X-ray crystallography, to capture the action. The result: one such defender molecule, an IFIT protein, was captured directly in the act of recognizing foreign RNA and the research team came away with a better understanding of how the IFIT protein distinguishes pathogenic RNA from normal molecules belonging to the host.

The IFIT protein, pictured above, has evolved a shape that specifically recognizes RNA from foreign species as different from RNA present in humans. Photo courtesy of Bhushan Nagar

The results of this work, which was conducted with researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, was recently published in the journal Nature and holds promise for developing drugs that combat immune system disorders, Nagar says. “Our findings will be useful for the development of novel drugs directed at IFIT proteins, particularly in cases where it is necessary to dampen the immune response, such as inflammation or cancer therapy.”

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