Researchers of Lupus, Autoimmune Therapies May Soon Use the Wily Flu Virus to Help in Their Work

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by Margarida Azevedo |

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Researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus Research Center for Innate Immunology have discovered that the influenza virus has the ability to hide itself from the immune system due to a protein that masks its entrance into cells. This mechanism, besides providing knowledge about viral immune evasion and aiding in the development of new strategies to fight influenza, might also be used in the development of treatments for autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythemathosus.

The research paper, “Influenza A virus targets a cGAS-independent STING pathway that controls enveloped RNA viruses,” was published in Nature Communications.

The body’s immune system can quickly detect and respond to a virus entering human cells. But researchers have now found that through evolution, the flu virus has developed an evasion mechanism and is able to escape the body’s immune response. Researchers found that the virus contains a protein that masks the moment when it enters the cell, facilitating its spread before the immune system can efficiently detect and eliminate it.

Scientists discovered this through lab studies where cells were given a conserved flu virus protein. Researchers observed that these cells had deficient defense mechanisms against the flu and other viruses, which hinted at the importance of the evaded recognition mechanism in response to several viral infections.

This new discovery contains important knowledge that will aid in the development of treatments not only for viral infections, but autoimmune diseases, too. This viral evasion mechanism is able to slow the immune system’s response, which can then be used to develop strategic therapies against rheumatoid arthritis and lupus where the immune system overacts and attacks healthy cells and tissues, leading to a state of chronic inflammation.

“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,” said study author Christian K. Holm, associate professor in the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, in a press release. “By suppressing the immune system’s reaction, the symptoms can be reduced. The results of our research can also be used to examine this in more detail.”