New study provides increased knowledge about viral activity in human cells


In an international collaboration, researchers have mapped the process when different viruses reproduce by imitating protein segments and hijack interactions between human cells. The results are published in Nature Communications.

Ola Söderberg, professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and part of the team behind the study
Ola Söderberg, professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and part of the team behind the study

Viruses are infectious particles that reproduce by entering host cells and mimicking small parts of the cell's proteins, so-called motifs. These motifs enable – by recognizing and binding to other proteins – intercellular communication and protein transportation. But when the viral proteins evolve their own interaction motifs, they hijack the cell's protein interactions. Studies of these processes have long been inhibited by technical limitations, but a new article published in the journal Nature Communications presents results that double the previously available information.

The article also describes how numerous viruses use the protein PABP1, which is central to the synthesis of new proteins. Thus, the results indicate that PABP1 is a potential target for the development of new antiviral drugs that, by blocking PABP1's function, can inhibit viral infections.

Filip Mihalič, Uppsala University
Filip Mihalič, Uppsala University

“Where researchers before us have focused on one virus and one interaction at a time, we have systematically mapped interactions between human proteins and hundreds of different viruses, while identifying and characterising motif-dependent interactions from a variety of virus species. Thus, providing a completely new understanding of viral motif mimicry,” says Filip Mihalič, researcher at Uppsala University and first author of the article.

As part of the project, Ola Söderberg, Professor of Pharmaceutical cell biology, has applied molecular biology methods developed by his own research team at the Faculty of Pharmacy's Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.

“We work with a focus on the development of new molecular biology methods that make it possible to identify signaling in individual cells. Using these methods, we can see what happens when a cell becomes ill, and here we have applied them to see how a cell is affected by a viral protein. There is an extensive need for new methods that enable studies of the functions of cells, and it is inspiring to see the outcome of our work contributing to scientific progress.”

Ylva Ivarsson, Uppsala University
Ylva Ivarsson, Uppsala University

The study was coordinated by Ylva Ivarsson, Professor at Uppsala University's Department of Chemistry BMC, and carried out in scientific collaboration between research groups at Uppsala University, Umeå University, EMBL Hinxton and the Institute of Cancer Research London.

“We hope that our results will encourage other researchers to pay more attention to this understudied phenomenon. In the future, we also hope to create a complete map of motif-dependent interactions between viral and human proteins. This would increase knowledge of what happens during virus infections and contribute to the development of drugs to combat pandemics such as covid-19,” says Ylva Ivarsson.


  • The study has received funding from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.



Ola Söderberg, professorOla Söderberg, Professor
Dep. of Pharmaceutical Biosciences

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt, private

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Last modified: 2022-11-08