Viral host interactions of the Dicistroviridae family

All successful viruses have evolved strategies to infect host cells and disrupt normal cell functions. However, the host can counteract these strategies by using its natural antiviral responses to detect and defend against viruses. Revealing the molecular mechanisms between the battle of the virus and host is vital in the fight against many of today’s viruses. Some viruses use an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) to infect cells. Molecular machines in cells called ribosomes translate genes into proteins, but viruses with an IRES can hijack the ribosome to replicate their viral proteins instead. IRESs are found in a number of human viruses, including polio, hepatitis C, herpes and HIV, but there is limited understanding of how these mechanisms work. Understanding the ways in which a virus hijacks the ribosome function is the focus of Dr. Eric Jan’s laboratory. He uses a unique IRES found in an insect virus called the cricket paralysis virus (CrPV). Jan’s previous work was critical in delineating important CrPV IRES functions. Building on this work, he plans to map the specific IRES elements that interact with the ribosome. He will also determine how CrPV disrupts cellular function that leads to IRES activity in Drosophila (fruit fly) cells, and elucidate the host antiviral response in these cells. The study of Drosophila antiviral responses will contribute to knowledge about fundamental virus-host interactions in humans. The research could lead to new drug targets for inhibiting viral IRESs and therapies that can augment antiviral responses. An exciting future goal will be to exploit viral IRESs to prompt the destruction of virus-infected cells – taking advantage of a viral mechanism against itself.