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Immune Protein Fends Off Exotic Virus

February 1, 2010

A study published online on February 1 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (www.jem.org) shows that antiviral proteins called type I interferons (IFNs) are needed to fend off infection with an exotic mosquito-borne virus called Chikungunya virus. This pathogen, which causes high fevers and severe joint pain, triggered a recent epidemic in Southeast Asia, infecting more than 30% of the population in some areas.

A team led by Marc Lecuit and Matthew Albert at the Pasteur Institute in Paris found that individuals infected with Chikungunya virus had increased levels of type I IFNs in their blood. But the source of the virus-fighting IFN proteins came as a surprise. Viruses related to Chikungunya trigger type I IFN production mostly from immune cells. But during Chikungunya infection, immune cells neither produced nor responded to type I IFNs. Rather non-immune cells called fibroblasts””the main target of virus infection””provided the essential type I IFN.

This unique feature should be taken into consideration in future efforts to develop therapeutic strategies for controlling Chikungunya virus infection.

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