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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Insight into how chronic infections evade immune system

Published: 10 October 2013
image of cells

University of Southampton scientists have discovered a unique way that cells in the body which are designed to attack infection, can be subdued, which could explain why infections such as hepatitis and HIV evade the immune system.

Natural killer (NK) cells are able to directly kill infected cells, even cancer cells. However in patients with chronic Hepatitis C virus infection or HIV, this process does not work adequately.

The Southampton team, led by Professor Salim Khakoo, used a specific peptide derived from the Hepatitis C virus genome and added it to NK cells. The peptide was shown to target a specific receptor on the NK cell called CD94 and turned these NK cells off. The same effect happened when a peptide derived from HIV was used.

Professor Khakoo comments: “Our work has demonstrated a novel way in which NK cells may work or not work in this case. This suggests that this may be a common mechanism by which viruses, which cause chronic infections in people, may prevent natural killer cells from killing virus-infected cells.

“Hepatitis C and HIV affect millions of people worldwide every year. We hope that this discovery will lead to new research to enable NK cells ways of attacking infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C and ensure the body is given the best chance in fighting serious infections.”

The research has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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