at the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney have discovered a key reason
as to why the influenza virus is so effective at establishing infection and
causing damage in the lungs.
found that a group of lung-cells, following influenza infection, responded only
poorly to interferons (the signalling proteins that help defend the body
against viral attack). The research could pave the way for the development of new
and improved anti-influenza drugs and vaccines, to both improve health and to
“Interferons are critically essential to our defence against pathogens including the influenza virus,” said Associate Professor Carl Feng (pictured), senior study author from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney. “The proteins are so named because they ‘interfere’ with the ability of viruses to multiply in the body.”
been known for a long time that during influenza, lung cells and immune cells in
the lungs secrete interferons causing virus-infected cells to initiate anti-viral
defences,” said Associate Professor Feng.
how interferons actually undertake this protective activity is still not
understood because the signalling proteins can act on hundreds of different
types of cells in our body,” he said.
study, Associate Professor Feng and colleagues have generated a new tool to identify
which cells respond to interferons in influenza infected mice. The goal was to
work out whether the outcome of infection and interferon signalling differed
between different cell types. What the researchers have demonstrated in the
study is that not every cell type reacts equally to the interferons, even when they
are in close proximity to each other.
able to show that cells in influenza-infected mice reacted to interferons in dissimilar
ways. Most notably, we found that one type of lung cell, the major target of
the influenza virus, responded extremely poorly to interferons and were highly
vulnerable to viral infection. This was particularly noticeable at the
early-stage of the influenza infection cycle,” said Associate Professor Feng.
research has the potential to lead to the development of new vaccination
strategies and therapeutics that are more effective than the currently available
remains among the most significant global infectious diseases owing to its high
infectivity, the variable usefulness of current vaccines and the limitations of
anti-viral therapy. It’s also a major health burden in Australia and globally,”
said the Centenary Institute and University of Sydney’s Professor Warwick
Britton, also an author of the study.
understanding of how this virus infection is controlled by lung cells can help
us to find medical solutions against influenza which results in millions of
cases of severe illness and which is responsible for killing up to half a
million people each and every year,” he says.
The investigators plan to study human lung-cells and their response to interferons and the influenza virus as a next-step of the research program.
Read the full media release here.
Read the publication in Cell Reports here.