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Viral Enzyme Recruited in Fight Against Ear Infection

o its promise for preventing acute otitis media, the virus enzyme treatment also appears to hold promise for preventing the secondary pneumonia caused when a person infected with S. pneumoniae is subsequently infected with the influenza virus.

“Secondary bacterial infections cause much of the sickness and about 25 percent of all deaths during the flu season, and 50 to 95 percent of deaths during pandemics of influenza,” said Jonathan McCullers, M.D., associate member in the Infectious Diseases department at St. Jude. “Eliminating these secondary infections could dramatically reduce the sickness and death rates among susceptible populations such as infants and the elderly.” This new approach might also offer some protection if the avian influenza virus, H5N1, sparks a pandemic among humans, he added. McCullers is first author of the “PLoS” paper.

The investigators demonstrated in mice infected with S. pneumoniae that lysin can eliminate these bacteria from the ear. The team conducted their study in mice developed at St. Jude that represented the first mouse model in which acute otitis media develops in a similar way that it develops the disease in children. The mice were treated by purified lysin that was prepared in the laboratory of Vincent A. Fischetti, Ph.D., a professor and co-head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology at The Rockefeller University. He was assisted by Jutta M. Loeffler, postdoctoral associate. Fischetti is senior author of the PLoS paper.

The researchers developed a mouse model of acute otitis media by first establishing colonization of S. pneumoniae in the noses of mice. Scientists then infected some of the mice with influenza virus and mock-infected others with a virus-free solution. Although all the mice carried the bacteria in their noses, none of the mock-infected mice developed acute otitis media, while 63 percent of mice receiving influenza virus developed this middle ear infection
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