Research

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Sun Hur, Ph.D.

Overview

Sun2Correct discrimination of “self” vs “non-self” nucleic acids by the innate immune system is essential for host defense against viral infection. A failure to recognize viral nucleic acids can increase a susceptibility to viral infection whereas incorrect recognition of self nucleic acids can lead to autoimmune/inflammatory diseases. The Hur lab is interested in how the innate immune system can distinguish self from non-self nucleic acids at the level of molecular structures and functions.

The innate immune system is the first line of defense against pathogen infection. Recognition of bacteria and viruses by the innate immune system immediately activates a series of downstream events that initiate antibacterial and antiviral responses and stimulate the adaptive immune system against the target pathogen. Several classes of pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) mediate the initial detection of non-self molecules such as bacteria-specific membrane components or viral nucleic acids. Correct recognition of non-self molecules is important for the efficient immune response against the target pathogen, whereas incorrect recognition of self molecules can trigger an inappropriate response resulting in autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.

Our lab focuses on the functions and mechanisms of several PRRs that specifically recognize viral nucleic acids, such as several Toll like receptors and RIG-I-like helicases. Understanding the function of the nucleic-acid specific PRRs (naPRRs) presents a new challenge compared to membrane specific PRRs because high concentrations of structurally diverse host nucleic acids are ubiquitous throughout the cellular environment. This raises the following questions:

1.  What features of nucleic acids distinguish self from non-self?

2.  How do naPRRs activate an immune response?

3.  What role does the recognition of self nucleic acids play in autoimmune & inflammatory diseases?

To address these questions our lab uses a multidisciplinary approach including X-ray crystallography, computational simulation, biochemical and biophysical methods in conjunction with various cell biology techniques. Our short-term goal is to determine the structures, dynamics and functions of naPRRs in isolation, in complex with nucleic acids, and in higher order complexes with functional partners involved in the signaling pathways. In parallel, we aim to identify & characterize cellular nucleic acids that trigger naPRRs resulting in activation of the immune response in tissues from patients with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, with the long-term goal of determining the molecular mechanisms for disease pathogenesis. We believe that understanding the mechanisms of naPRR regulation will provide therapeutic strategies to treat inflammatory diseases as well as to improve the antiviral immune response. In addition, understanding the molecular mechanisms of nucleic acid specificity of naPRRs will help us design new therapeutic nucleic acids (such as siRNA) that do not evoke undesirable immune responses.


About Sun Hur

Dr. Hur received her BS in physics from Ewha Women’s University in Korea in 2001, Ph.D. in physical chemistry with Dr. Thomas C. Bruice at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2003 and did her post-doctoral work in X-ray crystallography with Dr. Robert M. Stroud at the University of California, San Francisco.  Dr. Hur joined the IDI/PCMM in 2008 as a Junior Investigator.  Dr. Hur is a recipient of the 2009 Massachusetts Life Sciences Young Investigator Award, the 2010 Pew Scholar Award, as well as the 2015 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science and the 2015 Burroughs Wellcome Infectious Disease Investigator Award.


Contact

Office: 3 Blackfan Circle, Boston, MA, 02115
Email: Sun.Hur@Childrens.Harvard.edu; Ph: 617.713.8250 
Assistant: Shirley Nicholson
Email: Shirley.Nicholson@Childrens.Harvard.edu; Ph: 617.713.8544


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