Respiratory Syncytial Virus: Study pioneers treatment for viral infection common in children

February 4, 2013

Researchers at Imperial College London have discovered a new way in which a very common childhood disease could be treated. In the first year of life, 65 per cent of babies get infected by Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This causes bronchiolitis, and is thought to kill nearly 200,000 children every year worldwide.

In 1966 and 1967, vaccines were tested for RSV. These had disastrous effects on the , leading to a worsening of the disease and, in many cases, death. Scientists have so far not been able to fully explain this effect, which continues to hold back .

Studying this effect in mice, Imperial's Professor Peter Openshaw and his team developed a new technique which they hope might be used in tackling a wide range of other diseases including viral bronchiolitis.

In a paper published in the , the researchers examined how the RSV vaccine boosts that respond to infection, making them flock to the lungs and blocking the tubes that supply oxygen. They found that the vaccine boosted the accumulation of these , but also virtually eliminated the regulatory immune response in the lungs caused cells known as Tregs.

Professor Openshaw said: "The reason for the vaccine's failure has been a puzzle for over 40 years. To solve it, we tested out new ideas about how the immune system slows down inflammation. If it doesn't regulate itself properly, inflammation can run out of control. This vaccine seems to have locked the accelerator in the on position and to have disabled the brakes.

Next, the team tested the effects of chemokines, proteins which cause to move from place to place in the body. They found that when vaccinated mice inhaled the chemokines, Tregs were attracted back into the lungs where they reduced inflammation and helped to fight infection.

Professor Openshaw added "This is a very important discovery - it represents an entirely new way to treat these inflammatory diseases." If this approach were to work in patients, it could be used in a wide range of conditions in which there is excessive inflammation such as arthritis or psoriasis as well as bronchiolitis.

Openshaw's group hope that by gaining a better understanding of RSV disease they may at last be able to understand why some babies get so seriously ill, whereas others make a quick recovery. This knowledge could lead progress in reducing RSV's global impact and in the development of safe, and effective, vaccines.

Explore further: Infants with severe RSV disease may be immunosuppressed

More information: "Defective immunoregulation in RSV vaccine-augmented viral lung disease restored by selective chemoattraction of regulatory T cells" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published in print Monday 4 February 2013.

Related Stories

Infants with severe RSV disease may be immunosuppressed

December 10, 2012

Infants with severe lower respiratory tract infection caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) may have a dysfunctional innate immune response that relates to the severity of their disease. These are the findings from ...

Recommended for you

Zika virus infection alters human and viral RNA

October 20, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. These modifications—chemical tags known as ...

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn's disease

October 19, 2016

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

October 19, 2016

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly—a ...

Scientists uncover new facets of Zika-related birth defects

October 17, 2016

In a study that could one day help eliminate the tragic birth defects caused by Zika virus, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have elucidated how the virus attacks the brains of newborns, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.