Melbourne researchers have uncovered the secret behind the disguise of some viruses that manage to dodge detection by the body's immune system.
Gabrielle Belz and her colleagues at Parkville's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute worked with researchers from the University of Cambridge to establish the modus operandi of key viral gene K3.
Trojan horse-like, the gene helps viruses such as the herpes virus, and others, which cause chronic infection, to slip under the radar of the body's immune system in a game of deception.
"We knew that these genes work once the virus is actually in the body and substantially established - but our question was [whether they are] really helping the virus get past the immune system's defences right at the front line," the Age quoted Belz as saying.
The researchers showed that the gene-which is encoded in and made by the virus-disables the machinery used by the body to alert the immune system to infection, allowing the virus to covertly establish disease.
"In simplistic terms, infections are relatively self-limiting as once they go through their cycle they move on to the next person ... but it's not the case with chronic infections. Plus, if you can't see the virus then you don't know what the enemy looks like," said Belz.
She said the goal was to unmask the virus so the immune system could attack it, preventing disease from becoming established.
"Understanding how these sorts of genes work at a molecular and cellular point of view is important because if we know that, then perhaps we can uncover these inhibitors that allow that gene not to work, so the virus will be seen."
The study was published in the Journal of Immunology.