Maybe not a 'pox on you'

Thursday, 23 September, 2004

A breakthrough in identifying the mechanisms that control mousepox could pave the way to better protection against the use of smallpox by terrorists.

Researchers at the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research have identified proteins that determine which mice succumb to mousepox and which do not. The new insights into the immune response of mice to the mousepox virus could enable scientists to improve treatment for poxvirus infections, including smallpox.

The research team, led by Dr Gunasegaran Karupiah, are the first in the world to identify the regulatory proteins, known as cytokines, which occur only in resistant individuals.

This finding raises the possibility of identifying those humans who would be at risk if exposed to smallpox, enabling extremely effective targeting for vaccination programs to prevent or treat the disease.

The immune system of mice that are resistant to mousepox infection generate distinct types of cytokines, or regulatory proteins, to provide immunity. The three crucial cytokines are: interferon gamma (IFN-g), interleukin-2 (IL-2), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).

In contrast, strains of mice susceptible to infection produce little or none of these cytokines, but produce a separate variety, called IL-4.

The findings of the team's research have been published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Karupiah's work is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (USA), the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

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