Characterisation of innate immune DNA sensing and viral evasion strategies

Year of award: 2015


  • Prof Greg Towers

    University College London

Project summary

Cells protect themselves from viral infection using innate immunity. The effectiveness of innate immunity explains why most viruses cannot infect us although they can infect other animals. All viruses need to adapt to escape the innate immune system in the animal they infect; human viruses must evade or switch off human innate immunity.

We will use HIV to examine DNA sensing – a feature of innate immunity that detects the DNA of incoming viruses. HIV is a good virus to use because it makes DNA in the cytoplasm of cells, a place where DNA doesn’t usually exist. This means that HIV must be good at evading DNA sensing and switching it off. We aim to understand how viruses, such as HIV, hide their DNA and how they deactivate DNA sensing. We will also examine whether DNA sensing protects us from rare types of HIV.

Understanding how DNA sensing works will enable us to design more effective medicines, not just for viral infections but also for other diseases where DNA sensing is important, such as cancer and immune diseases.