Influenza virus is trickier than previously thought, as it can go incognito inside the host's body. Researchers found that the virus cheats the mechanism in which the immune system can detect viruses as soon as they enter the body.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications by researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark, found that influenza can evade the immune system long before being detected.
"The virus contains a protein that masks the virus entering the cell. In this way, the influenza virus can spread more easily before the immune system recognizes that it is a virus and attempts to fight it," said Professor Christian Holm from the university's Department of Biomedicine.
Influenza's Secret Weapon
The researchers found that the flu virus has a secret weapon - a protein that can hide the virus entering the cell. They discovered the weapon by exposing laboratory cells to an evolutionarily conserved influenza protein.
They found that the cells became less able to protect themselves from the influenza virus, which the researchers said was developed through evolution.
The study shows that the ability of the immune system to recognize harmful pathogens is important so it can protect the body. This sheds light on providing a better understanding on how robust viruses are and why they are dangerous.
"The more knowledge we have about why a virus becomes dangerous, the easier it is to develop treatments," explained Holm.
Protein May Be Used Against Autoimmune Diseases
The new discovery is not only important in the fight against the sneaky influenza. It also provides hope for patients combating autoimmune diseases. These diseases are caused by the body's own immune system attacking healthy cells and tissues, for unknown reasons and leads to chronic inflammation.
Most of these diseases are potentially fatal and are deemed incurable. With the discovery of the protein, the immune system can be suppressed to reduce its harmful effects on healthy cells, and in effect lessens the symptoms of the disease. However, further research is needed to investigate this possibility.
Photo: Kat Masback | Flickr