Our group (Molvirol) is interested in studying the different aspects of the molecular biology of avian reoviruses (ARV) and the molecular mechanisms that regulate its interactions with the host cell. ARV are non-enveloped, cytosolic viruses that cause arthritis in birds. They possess a segmented genome consisting of ten double stranded RNA segments encased within a 75 nm virion. Although they do not possess a lipid envelope they are able to promote membrane-to-membrane fusion causing syncytium formation in the infected cells.
Our research interests cover: i) the determination of the structure of the viral proteins, ii) identification of viral strategies to fight back the cellular innate immune mechanisms, iii) studies on viral morphogenesis and in general every single step on the viral replicative cycle.
In the last years we were also particularly focused on using the knowledge obtained from our basic research to develop what we called the “IC-Tagging” methodology, based on the construction of “viral factories” by ARV. They are intracellular compartments for viral replication that ARV construct using protein-protein interactions. Such membrane-less structures are highly ordered aggregates that support viral genome replication and morphogenesis. A single viral protein called muNS forms the scaffold for the viral factories.
We have engineered a truncated version of muNS (muNS-Mi) that forms regular spherical aggregates in different compartments of cells of different origins. On the other hand, we have identified a small peptide (IC-Tag) that serves as a molecular tag that causes the integration of the tagged protein into the muNS-Mi microspheres when both are co-expressed in the same cell.
Due to the particulate nature of the microspheres, they are easily detected and purified. The tagged proteins keep their native conformation, are able to perform complex interactions and even perform enzymatic reactions when integrated in the microspheres.
Thus, such a simple method has many different potential applications, ranging from the expression of immobilized enzymes for industrial use, detection of protein-protein interactions, expression of difficult proteins, etc.
One particularly interesting application that we are currently exploring is the development and production of adjuvant-free subunit vaccines.