A protein known for its ability to guard against viral infection has been found to lead a double life and can hinder disease therapies in animals.

Signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) proteins are a family of molecules that pick up interferon signals at the cell membrane, take them into the nucleus and activate genes that produce proteins to protect against virus infection.

Research carried out 25 years ago found interferons required STAT2 protein and a closely related partner protein, STAT1, to bind together to function. Further research found STAT1 had multiple roles and could work in isolation, but scientists continued to believe STAT2 only functioned positively in conjunction with STAT1 as an antiviral protein.

Two-faced nature

However, research by scientists at The University of Nottingham has revealed STAT2 has a two-faced nature and, depending on the signalling stimulus that comes to the cell, can act as an inhibitor of STAT1, reducing its natural protection against infections and bacteria.

The insights offered by this work, published in PLOS Biology, will be key to overcoming such limitations, the researchers explained.

Johnathan Ho, the paper’s first author, said: “It’s astounding to see such robust antagonistic behaviour between two proteins so classically associated with cooperation.”

Better understanding

The findings will make it possible to study previously inaccessible features of STAT2 functioning, such as regulation of cellular growth, ageing, blood poisoning and infectious diseases.

Lead researcher Uwe Vinkemeier said the findings apply to veterinary science and hopes they will enhance the effectiveness of animal medicine in the future.

He said: “If we know certain therapies are not wholly effective or having effects we did not expect, this could be linked to the fact we did not know, until now, about the dark side of the STAT2 protein. Now we do, we may be able to better understand certain effects we see in our treatments.”

  • Read the full story in the 21 November issue of Veterinary Times.
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