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New Insights Into Conquering Influenza

Protein protects against viral infections, including the flu (Jan. 29)

Australian researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have discovered a new protein that protects against viral infections, such as influenza.

The investigators believe they have a new clue to why some people fight infections better than others. They have been investigating the “defensive devices” contained in the T-cells located on exposed body surfaces, such as skin and mucosal surfaces, to ward off infection. T-cells detect cells infected with viruses and kill them before the virus can reproduce within the infected cell and spread to other cells.

The researchers found that the T-cells contain the protein IFITM3, and that this makes them more resistant to viral infections, such as influenza. The new findings were published in Nature Immunology.

“If we learn how to increase the number and longevity of T-cells expressing IFITM3, this could lead to improved vaccines that promote the generation of more resistant T-cells able to provide the greatest protection, for longer,” said Professor José Villadangos.

Co-investigator Dr. Linda Wakim commented: “We are currently trying to understand why some T-cells and not others express this protective molecule. Probably they encounter some form of chemical signal — a cytokine or a surface molecule — in the tissues where they lodge, which induces the expression of IFITM3. If we identify these chemical cues, we may be able to include them in future vaccines.”

Source: University of Melbourne; January 29, 2013.

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