Influenza viruses can hide from the immune system

influenza
Electron microscopy of influenza virus. Credit: CDC

Influenza is able to mask itself, so that the virus is not initially detected by our immune system. This is the result of new research from Aarhus University. The researchers behind the study hope that the discovery can be used to develop better treatment against influenza and chronic inflammation conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Some years ago researchers discovered that the immune system can already track viruses and alert the body as soon as a virus enters human cells to multiply. But new research now reveals that the influenza virus cheats the mechanism and is thus able to circumvent the body's advanced defence system.

"The virus contains a protein that masks the virus entering the cell. In this way, the influenza virus can spread more easily before the immune system recognises that it is a virus and attempts to fight it," says Associate Professor Christian Holm from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University.

Together with Professor Søren R. Paludan, he has headed the research project, which has also comprised contributions from other researchers at Aarhus University and from a number of American universities. Their discovery has recently been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Impairs defence against viruses in general

The influenza virus has developed this weapon against the immune system through evolution. The researchers discovered the mechanism by giving cells in the laboratory an evolutionarily conserved influenza virus protein. The result was that the cells became poorer at defending themselves against both and other types of viruses.

"This indicates that the recognition mechanism in the immune system that the influenza virus evades is generally important for the body's ability to defend itself against viruses. It is therefore important basic research knowledge for us. The more knowledge we have about why a virus becomes dangerous, the easier it is to develop treatments," explains Associate Professor Christian Holm.

Suppressed immune system can also be an advantage

The little protein that is able to mask the from the immune system is not only interesting in relation to combating influenza. It may be possible to use it to combat autoimmune diseases such as , as well as the relatively rare disease lupus, which to a great extent affects young women. In these diseases, the healthy cells and tissues - though the reasons for this are unknown - and creates .

"The protein's immunosuppressant effect can possibly be used to develop better treatments for these types of diseases, where the immune system is chronically overactive. By suppressing the 's reaction, the symptoms can be reduced. The results of our research can also be used to examine this in more detail," says Christian Holm.


Explore further

New discovery: This is why we do not constantly get ill despite viruses and bacteria

More information: "Influenza A virus targets a cGAS-independent STING pathway that controls enveloped RNA viruses" , Nature Communications, 2016..
Journal information: Nature Communications

Provided by Aarhus University
Citation: Influenza viruses can hide from the immune system (2016, February 23) retrieved 16 September 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-02-influenza-viruses-immune.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
0 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

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