Finding the source of the body’s protection against STIs

The body’s first line of defence against infection is now better understood, with researchers at Hudson Institute identifying a source of the immune system’s protection against STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

Professor Paul Hertzog leads an international team investigating the source of the body's protection against STIs.
Professor Paul Hertzog

Professor Paul Hertzog led an international team in establishing for the first time where and when in the female reproductive tract a novel protein called interferon epsilon is made.

Their research – carried out at Hudson Institute by Trinity College, Dublin-based researcher Dr Nollaig Bourke – has been published in the journal JCI Insight by the American Society of Clinical Investigation.

Protection against STIs and other infections

Interferon epsilon (IFNe) is important in the body’s natural response in protecting from infections, such as HSV (the herpes virus), Chlamydia, HIV and Zika virus.

The importance of this discovery is reflected by the decision of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund this investigation into the hormonal regulation of IFNe, which might extend to certain formulations of oral contraceptives that could regulate host immunity to infections like HIV .

Prof Hertzog said establishing where and when this protein is created is a significant step.

“We have discovered a key element in the puzzle of how interferon epsilon generates protective immunity,” Prof Hertzog said.

“We found that IFNe is expressed in the epithelial cells, where the infections arise, and not in the immune cells like other IFN’s.”

Key component of the body’s protective immunity

“Hence they are ideally located to be a key component of the body’s protective immunity against STIs,” Prof Hertzog said.

Interestingly, it is in these same cells where cancers arise.

“It’s important to know where IFNe is or isn’t made and how it is modulated by the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

“Knowing where it is normally produced is critical to understanding how infectious diseases progress and how best to treat them.” he said

Collaborators | Nollaig Bourke, Trinity College Dublin; Sharon Achilles, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, USA; Sam Mesiano, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dept of Reproductive Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, USA.

Funders | Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; NHMRC

DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.135407

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