Athens, Ga. University of Georgia scientists have discovered a new flu-fighting role for a well-known component of the immune system. Kimberly Klonowski, assistant professor of cellular biology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and her colleagues found that administering a cell-signaling protein known as IL-15 to mice infected with influenza reduces their peak viral load by nearly three times.
"We gave the IL-15 intranasally and found that it enhanced the movement of the immune system's natural killer cells and CD8 T cells into the lung airways," said Klonowski, whose findings were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE. "As a result, the animals that received it cleared the virus faster than the control group."
Klonowski cautioned that the protein is only effective against influenza for a defined period of time immediately following infection, which would make its use as a flu treatment difficult to implement. She added that IL-15 has been tested as a vaccine-booster, or adjuvant, in other viral diseases such as HIV, monkey pox and hepatitis B; understanding its mechanism of action is essential to maximizing its effectiveness in these contexts.
IL-15 was discovered nearly 20 years ago and is part of a group of immune system proteins known as interleukins. Klonowski noted until recently, however, its primary role was thought to be the maintenance of immune memory cells. Yet Klonowski and her colleagues found that concentrations of the protein surge in the respiratory tract in response to influenza infections, which led them to hypothesize that it also might play a role in controlling the virus.
The scientists devised a series of experiments in mice to discern the role of IL-15 in the immune response. It turns out that IL-15 is one of the body's critical first responders during influenza infection.
First, the scientists blocked the action of IL-15 in mice infected with influenza and found
|Contact: Kimberly Klonowski|
University of Georgia