FEMS Microbiology Reviews Article Award 2021

01-03-22 Joseph Shuttleworth

Ebony Monson, Alice Trenerry, Jay Laws, Jason Mackenzie and Karla Helbig, are the winners of the 2021 best article award from FEMS Microbiology Reviews. Their winning review titled: Lipid droplets and lipid mediators in viral infection and immunity was chosen by the Editors-in-Chief and thank the authors for writing this excellent review on an important topic that deserves extra attention.

We interviewed all of the authors to find out more about the inspiration behind their award winning review:

Top left to right: Karla Helbig, Alice Trenerry, Ebony Monson, Jason Mackenzie and Jay Laws

Could you provide a brief, simple overview of the topic your paper covers?

Our review explores the role of lipid droplets and their subsequent lipid mediators during viral infections. As the role of lipids in viral infection has been dominated in the literature by reports of viral replication strategies that usurp lipid droplets and alter lipidomic profiles of host cells to enhance their viral life cycles, our review poses a paradigm shift in thinking in the field, whereby lipid droplets have very recently been shown to play pivotal roles in protecting the host against viral infection. The field of lipid droplets and their cargo is an emerging field of discovery with many unanswered questions; however, we believe that a better understanding of the roles lipid droplets play in communicating with various immune pathways may assist in informing potential advanced therapeutic approaches to combat pathogenic microorganisms.”

Lipid droplets are key organelles in multiple cellular processes; recent advances in the field have demonstrated that they together with their lipid mediators may play pivotal roles in the outcome of viral infection.

What role do Lipid Droplets (LDs) play in the viral infection of a cell? 

Lipid droplets are induced within cells following a number of pathogen infections, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. It begs the question as to whether this phenomenon is host or pathogen-regulated. Lipid droplets are most well described for their pro-viral roles in cells during infection whereby some viruses, particularly those in the Flaviviridae family usurp lipid droplets as a fuel source for replication, however more recently, novel pro-host roles have been described for lipid droplets within infected cells.  Lipid droplets have now been described to house important antiviral proteins and be a hub for bioactive lipid mediator synthesis, both of which contribute to their immune roles in a cell. ”

What encouraged you to perform research in this area of microbiology?

We have all come to understand, as scientists, that things are always more complex than they seem. Aspects of our design that we have previously thought to be obligate, ‘junk’, or having a single function – have emerged as important regulators with distinct and unexpected functions. Our work with lipid droplets aimed to explore exactly that – are these small, transient organelles just a means of regulating lipid accumulation and metabolism – or does the story go a lot deeper? The Helbig lab has worked for many years with the antiviral protein viperin, which is a resident lipid droplet protein. Our more recent work has shown that this protein interacts with other key proteins involved in innate immune signaling at the lipid droplet surface, so we hypothesised that the lipid droplet may have a larger role to play in antiviral immune responses than was previously thought. There is also increasing interest in the role of organelle platforms that mediate innate responses e.g., Mitochondria. Thus, understanding how other organelles such as lipid droplets contribute and even co-operate to mediate a range of different biological functions is important to advance our understanding in virus-host interactions.”

What do you see as the next steps in this area of research?

This research area really is in its infancy, and there is much to learn. A better understanding of the role of lipid droplets as platforms in signaling events is crucial, as well as a better understanding of what might facilitate protein-lipid droplet interactions. We are still also trying to understand the role of various lipid species and their mediators in control of viral infection, as well as develop novel tools to study lipid movement within cells.

Read the 2021 award winning paper: Lipid droplets and lipid mediators in viral infection and immunity

See more FEMS Journals Article Awards

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