Viral infections are a major threat to public health worldwide. The innate immune response acts as the first line of defense during viral infections by recognizing pathogen-associated molecular patterns such as double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Impaired innate immune signaling sensitizes patients to viral infections, while aberrant innate immune activation is associated with autoimmune diseases.
Recently, the host laboratory identified the protein kinase TAOK2 as a novel co-factor for viral dsRNA sensing. TAOK2 binds and is activated by dsRNA, and its depletion leads to an impaired immune response to viral infection. Notably, a mutation in TAOK2 causes immunodeficiency in human patients. These findings suggest a previously unappreciated role for TAOK2 in innate immunity, but the molecular details remain unclear.
I will use synergistic biochemical, systems biology and in vivo approaches to comprehensively define the role of TAOK2 in innate immunity. First, I will use state-of-the-art biochemical and structural approaches to define the mechanism of dsRNA recognition by TAOK2 and discern the molecular basis for the disease-causing point mutation. Second, I will perform a multi-level systems biology analysis to integrate TAOK2 into a dynamic signaling network in response to viral infection. Third, I will assess the consequences of complete loss of TAOK2 and the clinically relevant TAOK2 point mutation in vivo using mouse models.
This highly interdisciplinary and collaborative project will combine my existing expertise in biochemistry and in vivo approaches with the systems biology competencies of the host laboratory. Thereby, I will gain novel insight into the signaling network that governs the innate immune responses to viral dsRNA. The training during this project will increase my scientific and transferable skills, reintegrate me into the European research community, and thereby help me achieve professional maturity and academic independence.
Fields of science
- HORIZON.1.2 - Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Main Programme