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New hope in fight against viruses


A new mechanism by which viruses evade the immune system has been uncovered, thanks to an Israeli doctoral student’s work on analysing the function of microRNAs.

The discovery by Naama Elefant at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has important implications for intervention in the battle between viruses and humans.

MicroRNA genes are important regulators of protein production. They work by latching on to other genes (their targets) and inhibiting the production of the protein products of these genes.

Hundreds of microRNAs have already been discovered, but the identity of their target genes remains mostly unknown and presents a great challenge in the field.

Ms Elefant developed a computer algorithm that predicts the targets of microRNAs, allowing her to research a group of microRNAs which originated in viruses. The algorithm predicted that an immune system protein, essential for the immune system’s response against viruses, is inhibited by a viral microRNA.

The discovery holds promising therapeutic implications. It opens a new direction for anti-viral therapy aimed at inhibiting the viral microRNA, and introduces a possible means to suppress the immune system in autoimmune diseases and transplantations by developing synthetic microRNAs.

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