What controls the outcome of retroviral infections?


Retroviruses infect myriad organisms and appear to be the oldest viruses on Earth. They exist as dangerous contagions such as HIV-1, or as non-infectious remnants in our genomes that are benign or even useful. Our multi-million year relationship with retroviruses has shaped our evolution and rendered these viruses a valuable tool for understanding our own biology.

As pathogens, retroviruses are formidable. Once infected, susceptible individuals develop life-threatening cancers or immunodeficiencies that are extremely difficult to treat. Because retroviruses permanently integrate into the genome of their host cell, once infection is established, it is nearly impossible to eliminate. Furthermore, they are masters of immune escape, constantly adapting to their environment to ensure their replicative success.

However, we are not defenseless in the face of these invaders, and in some cases, individuals are able to restrict viral replication, or mount neutralizing immune responses that control infection and protect against future challenge.

The central focus of the Kane Lab is understanding the genetic and immunological basis for protective antiviral immune responses, as well as the molecular details underlying the direct inhibition of retroviral replication by restriction factors. We utilize both in vitro and in vivo tools to investigate intrinsic, innate, and adaptive immune responses to retroviral infection.

Our research is centered around three questions:

  • What allows some individuals to restrict or control retroviral replication?

  • How do retroviruses counteract host defenses?

  • What are the features of successful anti-retroviral immune responses?