Oxford University researchers have found that human cells use viruses as Trojan horses, transporting a messenger that encourages the immune system to fight the very virus that carries it. The discovery could have implications for the design of new vaccines.
Scientists already knew that when a virus containing or producing DNA enters a cell in the body it is detected by a protein called cGAS. This in turn produces a small signalling molecule called cGAMP which acts as what's known as a second messenger, activating other elements of the body's immune response. Now, the Oxford team have discovered that as some viruses replicate, they incorporate cGAMP, meaning that as they infect new cells the cGAMP immediately prompts an immune response.
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