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The work of two researchers at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine was published in the January issue of the American Society for Microbiology’s Journal of Virology.
Dr. Troy Stevens, professor of pharmacology and internal medicine and director of the Center for Lung Biology, and Dr. Ron Balczon, associate professor of cell biology and neuroscience and a member of the Center for Lung Biology, co-authored the article along with Dr. Terrence Tumpey, a graduate of the USA College of Medicine doctoral program and the current senior microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The research focuses on highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses, which continue to cause sporadic human infections with a high fatality rate.
“We all know that the flu is something to avoid, especially in children, the elderly, and in adults who are immunocompromised,” Dr. Stevens said. “While the H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses are responsible for the well-known flu symptoms, some influenza strains such as H5N1 are more virulent, or highly infective, and cause even worse symptoms.”
This research identifies a mechanism of virulence used by H5N1 to cause acute respiratory lung disease, a serious form of lung disease where blood and fluid seeps out of blood vessels in the lung and into the airspaces, preventing patients from oxygenating tissues. Drs. Stevens and Balczon said that for strains like H5N1 to illicit such severe responses, the virus must interact with human cells, where it replicates and is released in higher numbers.
The current research shows that H5N1 replicates in endothelial cells – cells that line blood vessels – and is released into the bloodstream, allowing the virus to spread.
“What is perhaps an even greater concern is that other emerging influenza strains will adapt the strategy of H5N1 to replicate in endothelium,” Dr. Balczon said.
They emphasized that H5N1 infections are far less common than H1N1 or H3N2 infections. The H5N1 virus is still a concern, however, especially because it causes severe lung injury with a high death rate. “At present, there are few therapeutic options available to patients that effectively target viruses in general, and influenza in particular,” Dr. Balczon said.
“Improving our understanding of how viruses replicate in tissues will allow us to develop new therapeutic approaches in the future that attack this problem.”
To view the entire article published in the Journal of Virology, visit http://jvi.asm.org/content/86/2/667.abstract.
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