Christine O’Connor, PhD, Genomic Medicine Institute, has received two grants from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the manipulation of host factors that promote human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) latency and reactivation. Each grant is for five years, and together they total $4.6 million.
HCMV is a widespread virus found in more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. After initial infection, HCMV establishes lifelong latency, where it lies dormant in an individual’s cells and poses little threat to otherwise healthy individuals. However, if an individual’s immune system becomes compromised, the virus can reactivate and cause severe illness and death. HCMV also may lead to long-term health problems in babies whose mothers passed them the virus during pregnancy. Currently, no vaccine or cure exists.
Dr. O’Connor’s team aims to pave the way for the development of HCMV therapies by investigating the processes governing latency and reactivation. They previously discovered that the viral G protein-coupled receptors (vGPCRs) encoded by HCMV during latency play important roles. With these grants, the O’Connor Lab will interrogate how these vGPCRs promote latency by modulating host cell proteins to suppress viral processes associated with active replication. Additionally, they will elucidate the function(s) of these viral proteins that are necessary for efficient viral reactivation.
“Successful completion of these projects will lead to a greater understanding of the vGPCRs’ biological functions during HCMV during latency and reactivation and will lay the foundation for future studies that will develop novel therapeutics to target the latent reservoir of HCMV infection and prevent HCMV reactivation and disease,” said Dr. O’Connor.