Fighting the Spread of Retroviruses From Animals to People
The bilateral spread of viruses between animals and humans, known as zoonotic infection, can have devastating consequences for human and animal health, global food supplies, and the economy. High-density urban populations, current farming practices, and rapid climate change are major factors that have led both old and new viruses to emerge and spread. Dr. Marc-André Langlois, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Intrinsic Immunity, is exploring ways to fight and prevent these infections.
Retroviruses that spread from animals to people pose a unique threat, because they permanently insert themselves into the genetic code of the cells they infect and interfere with the cells’ normal functions, causing disease. HIV is probably the best-known example of a harmful retrovirus that has jumped from animals to humans. But scientists have also isolated mouse retroviruses in the tissues of patients suffering from liver disease and breast cancer. Because all mammals—including domestic and farm animals—harbor numerous retroviruses, scientists are interested in finding out if and how these retroviruses affect human health, and what immune defenses are available to protect us.
Langlois is examining how certain proteins in our immune system—called APOBEC3— protect us against retroviruses. These proteins can stop retroviruses from replicating by mutating their DNA, permanently inactivating them. However, to protect themselves, over time these retroviruses have developed countermeasures against the APOBEC3 proteins. Langlois and his research team are studying how host and virus defense mechanisms interact.
This research could change the way certain diseases are treated, and lead to new strategies for fighting and preventing retroviral infections.