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(Vienna, 26 Nov. 2010) The research groups of Giulio Superti-Furga and Sylvia Knapp from the Research Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Medical University of Vienna are reporting the discovery of a novel mechanism in the recognition of viruses by immune cells. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on 22 November 2010.

According to these findings, a subset of so-called Toll-like receptors resides in immune cells to trigger an inflammatory alarm once the genome (DNA/RNA) of pathogens, mainly viruses, is recognised. Using a proteomic approach, Baumann et al. were able to identify the already known and studied protein CD14 as an important interactor of the sensor proteins and describe two new roles for CD14: on the one hand the tests have shown that CD14 is responsible for the uptake and subsequent recognition of DNA in immune cells.

This could be of decisive importance for the understanding of systemic diseases such as lupus erythematosus (SLE): DNA released from dying host cells elicits an inflammatory process leading to this autoimmune disease. Moreover, the scientists found that CD14 is also required as a co-factor for the activation of Toll-like receptors in certain virus infections.

“A better way to stimulate these receptors can have potential use in immunisation protocols or in boosting anti-viral responses during epidemics,” says Giulio Superti-Furga, one of the two project managers of the study and Scientific Director of the CeMM, “I am proud of these findings that establish the CeMM as an important partner in this highly competitive and medically-relevant field.”

Sylvia Knapp, Principal Investigator at the CeMM, Professor at the Division of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at the Department of Medicine I and also a project manager of the study, adds: “It is extremely pleasing to see how successful integrated research from proteome-based discoveries to physiological studies with pathogens in mouse models can be. This is applied molecular medicine research which is geared towards effectively fighting infectious diseases. I am convinced that this discovery is a significant one."

Ce–M–M– Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences:
The CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences is an international, independent and interdisciplinary research institute for molecular medicine. “From the clinic for the clinic” – geared towards medical requirements, the CeMM integrates basic research and clinical expertise in order to develop innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Research focuses on cancer, inflammations and immune disorders.

The Medical University of Vienna:
The Medical University of Vienna (or MedUni Vienna for short) ranks as one of the medical training and research establishments with the greatest traditions in Europe. With almost 7,500 students it is the biggest medical training establishment in the German-speaking area today. With its 30 university hospitals, 12 centres for medical theory and 30 highly-specialised laboratories it is also among the most important top research institutions in Europe in the field of biomedicine. More than 48,000 m² of research area are available for clinical research.