Research highlight

Controlling West Nile Virus

Nature Immunology

September 6, 2010

An enzyme that is important in fighting West Nile Virus (WNV) is reported in this week's Nature Immunology. Understanding the molecular basis for the response against WNV may hold clues to controlling both this and other potentially dangerous viral infections.

WNV can cause a potentially fatal disease of the central nervous system and is becoming increasingly common in the developed world. Erol Fikrig and colleagues identify the enzyme caspase-12 as being critical for the immune system to fight WNV infection.

Caspase-12 normally dampens immune responses to bacterial infection but the researchers instead found that it was critical for stimulating an effective WNV response in mice. The primary targets for WNV are neurons and it is here that caspase-12 is most highly concentrated, helping to escalate the immune response towards WNV.

If caspase-12 is also found to be critical for fighting WNV in humans, the current study could have potential therapeutic implications.

doi: 10.1038/ni.1933

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