Mentor: Laurent Coscoy, Molecular and Cell Biology

Natural Killer (NK) cells are an important part of the Innate Immune System, surveying the body to recognize and eliminate cells determined to be abnormal. NK Cells can be activated through ligands that bind to excitatory receptors on the cell. The most well-studied excitatory ligands have been the NKG2D family of ligands, which bind to NKG2D receptors on NK Cells. I’m using MCMV, Mouse Cytomegalovirus, as a model to study NKG2D ligand regulation in cells infected by viruses. M18, a protein in MCMV, by itself is necessary and sufficient for induction of the Rae-1 family of ligands, which are sub-group of NKG2D ligands. M18 does not exist as one peptide chain, but rather in two forms that are produced by cleavage, and I plan to determine where M18 is cleaved in post-translational modification and how this cleavage potentially affects Rae-1 induction. Discovering the cleavage site and how cleavage affects Rae-1 induction will help us better understand NKG2D ligand regulation with regards to viral infection, which could help work towards the development of treatments and therapeutics that are informed by knowledge of these pathways.

Image: 
Billal Ahmed