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IMAGE: HTLV-1 establishes infection mainly in CD4+ T cells and induces leukemia. HTLV-1-encoded Tax is a critical transactivator of viral replication, but its significance in pathogenesis remained unclear. The research team… view more 

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Japan — A study appearing in the in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gives new clues into how cancers like leukemia form from the retrovirus HTLV-1, as well as insights into the possible creation of a vaccine.

HTLV-1 is a human retrovirus that mainly infects the CD4+ T cell. Such Infections can lead to a host of immune-related diseases including leukemia. Somewhat counterintuitively, the virus thrives by remaining at very low levels in the body, which is unlike its more notorious cousin, HIV.

“HTLV-1 RNA is rarely detected in the plasma of infected individuals, and it persists by evading host immune surveillance,” says Jun-ichirou Yasunaga of Kyoto University’s Institute for Frontier Life and Medical Sciences, who led the study.

HTLV-1 encodes two oncogenic factors, Tax and HBZ. Besides its function as an oncoprotein, Tax also facilitates viral replication. “The precise role of Tax in pathogenesis is unknown, since it is so faintly expressed in infected cells,” continues Yasunaga.

The researchers found that within populations of

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