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AIM2 Inflammasome

Cytosolic recognition of foreign nucleic acids: Molecular and functional characterization of AIM2, a central player in DNA-triggered inflammasome activation


Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung
Institut für Klinische Chemie und Pharmakologie
Bereich Klinische Biochemie
Universitätsklinikum Bonn
Biomedizinisches Zentrum
Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25
53127 Bonn



Host cytokines, chemokines and type I IFNs are critical effectors of the innate immune response to viral and bacterial pathogens. Several classes of germ-line encoded pattern recognition receptors have been identified, which sense non-self nucleic acids and trigger these responses. Recently NLRP-3, a member of the NODlike receptor (NLR) family, has been shown to sense endogenous danger signals, environmental insults and the DNA viruses adenovirus and HSV. Activation of NLRP-3 induces the formation of a large multiprotein complex in cells termed ‘inflammasome’, which controls the activity of pro-caspase-1 and the maturation of pro-IL-1β and pro-IL18 into their active forms. NLRP-3, however, does not regulate these responses to double stranded cytosolic DNA. We identified the cytosolic protein AIM2 as the missing receptor for cytosolic DNA. AIM2 contains a HIN200 domain, which binds to DNA and a pyrin domain, which associates with the adapter molecule ASC to activate both NF-κB and caspase-1. Knock down of AIM2 down-regulates caspase-1-mediated IL-1β responses following DNA stimulation or vaccinia virus infection. Collectively, these observations demonstrate that AIM2 forms an inflammasome with the DNA ligand and ASC to activate caspase-1. Our underlying hypothesis for this proposal is that AIM2 plays a central role in host-defence to cytosolic microbial pathogens and also in DNA-triggered autoimmunity. The goals of this research proposal are to further characterize the DNA ligand for AIM2, to explore the molecular mechanisms of AIM2 activation, to define the contribution of AIM2 to host-defence against viral and bacterial pathogens
and to assess its function in nucleic acid triggered autoimmune disease. The characterization of AIM2 and its role in innate immunity could open new avenues in the advancement of immunotherapy and treatment of autoimmune disease.