Researchers at the Trudeau Institute have made a new insight into the mechanisms the immune system employs to fight an influenza infection, suggesting potential new avenues for therapeutic interventions. Their findings appear in the July issue of the scientific journal Immunity.
Modern scientific technology is affording researchers a better understanding of how the virus works. More important is that technology is also allowing researchers a clearer picture of how our immune system operates to protect against the virus.
Previous investigations of the immune response to the flu found that white blood cells located in the lung play a critical role in clearing the infection and limiting the severity of disease. “The ways in which our white blood cells work to eliminate virus-infected cells, however, were not well-described,” said Dr. Jake Kohlmeier, Research Assistant Faculty at the Trudeau Institute and lead author of the report.
Now new findings by Kohlmeier and colleague David Woodland (president of the Trudeau Institute) have identified a signal that alerts white blood cells to the presence of the invading virus and prepares them to kill infected cells. “This signal, encoded by soluble proteins known as cytokines, is rapidly induced following influenza virus infection of the lung. The signal diffuses throughout the body, alerting white blood cells in distant sites, thereby initiating a program of activation that allows these cells to rapidly identify and kill infected cells once they enter the lung, hastening viral clearance.”
Trudeau researchers are optimistic that this new information will eventually play a role in helping better protect the public from future influenza outbreaks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36,000 deaths occur in the United States each year, the result of complications from influenza, and the World Health organization estimates that flu claims between 250,000 and half a million lives around the globe each year.
The study Trudeau study, “Type I interferons regulate cytolytic activity of memory CD8+ T cells in the lung airways during respiratory virus challenge,” was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The Trudeau Institute is an independent, not-for-profit, biomedical research organization, whose scientific mission is to make breakthrough discoveries leading to improved human health. Trudeau researchers are identifying the basic mechanisms used by the immune system to combat viruses like influenza, mycobacteria, such as tuberculosis, parasites and cancer, so that better vaccines and therapies can be developed for fighting deadly disease. The research is supported by government grants and philanthropic contributions.