Fighting rhinoviruses effectively

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New pathways for immune response in bronchial asthma

Autumn marks the high season for rhinoviruses in our latitudes, because they feel most comfortable in cold, wet weather. Rhinoviruses cause cold symptoms that are not dangerous for most people. However, they remain harmful in some cases, for example in children suffering from bronchial asthma. If children with bronchial asthma are infected by a rhinovirus, their state of health can deteriorate considerably. Scientists at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (UKER) have been working as part of an international team to find a way of preventing this from happening. Their findings have been published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Their research investigated processes at the molecular level as certain receptors on the cell surface play a major role in successfully combating the viruses through the body’s own immune system. Prof. Susetta Neurath-Finotto, Professor of Molecular Pneumology and Head of the Department of Molecular Pneumology at UKER, explains: ‘Normally, the immune system eliminates rhinoviruses. However, it needs to be stimulated to an immune response first.’ The immune response is triggered by the signalling protein interferon-alpha, which in turn reaches the cells infected by the virus via corresponding receptors. This process does not work as it should in asthmatic children. Interferon alpha does not pass sufficiently into the cells and the virus spreads further.

However, the receptors for interferon lambda can be activated with the molecule R848 investigated at UKER. The research group has demonstrated this on the basis of in vitro tests with blood cells of children with and without asthma. ‘Treatment with R848 paves the way for interferon lambda to enter the cells, enabling an antiviral immune response,’ says Prof. Neurath-Finotto.

Further information

DOI: 10.1183/13993003.01562-2020

Prof. Dr. Susetta Finotto
Department of Molecular Pneumology (UKER)
Phone: + 49 9131 8542454