Pandemic swine flu can infect cells deeper in the lungs than seasonal flu can, according to a new study published today in Nature Biotechnology. The researchers, from Imperial College London, say this may explain why people infected with the pandemic strain of swine-origin H1N1 influenza are more likely to suffer more severe symptoms than those infected with the seasonal strain of H1N1. They also suggest that scientists should monitor the current pandemic H1N1 influenza virus for changes in the way it infects cells that could make infections more serious.
Influenza viruses infect cells by attaching to bead-like molecules on the outside of the cell, called receptors. Different viruses attach to different receptors, and if a virus cannot find its specific receptors, it cannot get into the cell. Once inside the cell, the virus uses the cell's machinery to make thousands more viruses, which then burst out of the cell and infect neighbouring ones, establishing an infection.
Seasonal influenza viruses attach to receptors found on cells in the nose, throat and upper airway, enabling them to infect a person's respiratory tract. Today's research, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, shows that pandemic H1N1 swine flu can also attach to a receptor found on cells deep inside the lungs, which can result in a more severe lung infection.
The pandemic influenza virus's ability to stick to the additional receptors may explain why the virus replicates and spreads between cells more quickly: if a flu virus can bind to more than one type of receptor, it can attach itself to a larger area of the respiratory tract, infecting more cells and causing a more serious infection.
Professor Ten Feizi, a corresponding author of today's paper from the Division of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "Most people infected with swine-origin flu in the
|Contact: Lucy Goodchild|
Imperial College London