Researchers have provided the first global analysis of human proteins interacting with proteins of viruses and other pathogens. The network of interactions, described in an article published February 15 in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens, reveals possible key intervention points for the future development of therapeutics against infectious diseases.

“Infectious diseases result in millions of deaths each year,” said co-author Matt Dyer. “Although much effort has been directed towards the study of how infection by a pathogen causes disease in humans, only recently have large data sets for protein interactions become publicly available.”

The scientists used a novel computational approach to analyze data, drawn from 190 different pathogens that comprise 10 477 interactions between human and pathogen proteins. The researchers paid particular attention to two networks of human proteins – proteins that interact with at least two viral pathogens and proteins that interact with at least two bacterial pathogens.

Gene Ontology terms computed for both sets of proteins provided key information on the functions of the different proteins. The researchers found that pathogens preferentially interact with two classes of human proteins referred to as hubs and bottlenecks. Hubs interact with many other proteins in the human protein interaction network. Bottlenecks lie on many of the shortest paths in the network.

Pathogens appear to maximize their potential by targeting these high-impact, influential proteins during infection. Better understanding of this process will allow researchers to hone strategies to prevent or cure infection. And because, in many cases, human proteins that mediate pathogen effects are proteins known to be involved in cancer pathways, this finding suggests interesting parallels between pathogen infection and cancer and the direction of further research in this area.

Article: Dyer MD, Murali TM, Sobral BW (2008) The landscape of human proteins interacting with viruses and other pathogens.