Postdoctoral grant awarded to Odysseus Grantee Jonathan Maelfait Research Field: Nucleic Acid Sensing in Antiviral Immunit
Viruses are obligate intracellular pathogens and in order to replicate they need to deliver their RNA and DNA genomes inside the host cell. The cells that make up our body contain sensory molecules called nucleic acid receptors which detect virally derived nucleic acids. Different types of nucleic acid receptors activate distinct antiviral defence mechanisms which cooperate to clear the viral pathogen. Some receptors respond to infection by releasing antiviral molecules, which alert surrounding cells of the ensuing viral attack. Others instruct the infected cell to commit suicide thereby preventing viral dissemination.
The research focuses on the identification of the precise molecular signatures that activate nucleic acid receptors and how viruses fight back by blocking the molecular signalling pathways that are activated upon infection.
In another aspect of the research is understanding how nucleic acid receptors specifically recognise viral nucleic acids and avoid contact with cellular RNA and DNA. Healthy uninfected cells are packed with endogenous RNA and DNA molecules which are important for normal cell function. Unwanted detection of these nucleic acids can result in detrimental immune responses, including the development of autoimmunity.