-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SUNDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- If you've ever wondered how
the flu virus succeeds at infecting so many people, a new study of
mice may offer some insight.
The flu actually targets cells of the immune system that are
best able to disarm the virus, according to the study. These first
responders, known as memory B cells, produce antibodies that can
bind to the virus and neutralize it. These cells also reside in the
lung where they can protect against re-exposure to the virus.
Researchers found, however, that the flu virus attacks these
memory B cells first to disrupt antibody production, allowing it to
replicate more efficiently and prevent the immune system from
mounting a second defense.
"We can now add this to the growing list of ways that the flu virus has to establish infection," study co-author Joseph Ashour, a postdoctoral researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, said in an institute news release.
"This is how the virus gains a foothold," study co-author Stephanie Dougan, also a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead member Hidde Ploegh, explained in the news release. "The virus targets memory cells in the lung, which allows infection to be established -- even if the immune system has seen this flu before."
Memory B cells, which have virus-specific receptors, are
difficult to isolate. To address this issue, the researchers
attached a fluorescent label to the flu virus, which allowed them
to identify flu-specific B cells. They then used a cloning
technique to create a line of mice with virus-specific B cells and
The study authors suggested that the infectious process of the
flu is probably used by other viruses as well. "We can now make
highly effective immunological models for a variety of pathogens,"
Dougan concluded. "This is actually a perfect model for studying
memory immune cells."
Scientists note, however, that research with animals often fails
to produce similar results in humans.
"This is research that could help with rational vaccine design, leading to more effective vaccines for seasonal flu," Ashour said. "It might even suggest novel strategies for conferring immunity."
The study was recently published in the journal
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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