We have identified a secreted orthopoxvirus-encoded protein, termed OMCP, which binds two receptors on innate immune effector cells. The first is NKG2D - an activating receptor of NK and T cells. The second, as yet undefined, is expressed on monocytes/macrophages and B cells. These binding activities are conserved in humans and all tested rodent species. We hypothesize that OMCP is secreted by orthopoxvirus-parasitized cells to competitively antagonize both NKG2D and the macrophage receptor. This prevents each receptor from binding its respective ligand and triggering immune function against the infected cell. We further hypothesize that actions of OMCP allow these pathogens to reach higher titers in infected tissues, particularly mucosal surfaces, prior to the onset of adaptive immunity. Our objectives are: [1] to understand the biophysical details of how this happens including the thermodynamic binding parameters and atomic-scale structures of each involved protein;and [2] to establish why blockade of these receptors enhances viral fitness. Accordingly, we will identify and clone the macrophage OMCP receptor, produce recombinant proteins, and characterize the respective molecular interactions using binding assays and X-ray crystallography. We will also generate recombinant viruses expressing a null OMCP allele as well as viruses expressing monospecific OMCPs so that the effects of each binding activity can be studied in isolation. The relevance of this work to public health stems from the threat posed by emerging rodent-borne orthopoxviruses that occasionally cause severe disease in people. Unlike smallpox, these viruses cannot be eradicated by vaccination;their animal vectors have ongoing contact with humans;and they are accessible in the wild to malicious entities for engineered acquisition of immunoevasive and/or drug- resistant phenotypes. Surprisingly little is known about how the immune system detects these agents, and how they in turn counter that detection. Study of OMCP will inform this issue since it binds to two molecules that, almost by definition, are important to these viruses'life cycles in their hosts. This work will also provide immunologic insight into the function of these receptors insight that likely is extensible to other infections.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Immunity and Host Defense Study Section (IHD)
Program Officer
Challberg, Mark D
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code
Fogel, Leslie A; Yokoyama, Wayne M; French, Anthony R (2013) Natural killer cells in human autoimmune disorders. Arthritis Res Ther 15:216
Fogel, Leslie A; Sun, Michel M; Geurs, Theresa L et al. (2013) Markers of nonselective and specific NK cell activation. J Immunol 190:6269-76
Lazear, Eric; Peterson, Lance W; Nelson, Chris A et al. (2013) Crystal structure of the cowpox virus-encoded NKG2D ligand OMCP. J Virol 87:840-50
Zhao, Yun M; French, Anthony R (2013) Mechanistic model of natural killer cell proliferative response to IL-15 receptor stimulation. PLoS Comput Biol 9:e1003222
Epperson, Megan L; Lee, Chung A; Fremont, Daved H (2012) Subversion of cytokine networks by virally encoded decoy receptors. Immunol Rev 250:199-215
Geurs, Theresa L; Hill, Elaise B; Lippold, Danna M et al. (2012) Sex differences in murine susceptibility to systemic viral infections. J Autoimmun 38:J245-53
Zhao, Yun M; French, Anthony R (2012) Two-compartment model of NK cell proliferation: insights from population response to IL-15 stimulation. J Immunol 188:2981-90
Campbell, Jessica A; Davis, Randall S; Lilly, Lauren M et al. (2010) Cutting edge: FcR-like 5 on innate B cells is targeted by a poxvirus MHC class I-like immunoevasin. J Immunol 185:28-32