"Decoy" Molecule Could Be A Lifesaver

A researcher has identified a “decoy” molecule that can halt the body’s dangerous reaction to the influenza virus.

The virus can be lethal to those who are infected. But the body’s own reaction to the virus can be just as hazardous. The immune-system response often consists of an inflammatory attack that can be hazardous if it gets too aggressive and causes potentially fatal tissue damage in vulnerable patients.

Now, a University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) researcher has has identified a “decoy” molecule that can rein in this runaway inflammatory response.

The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

“We think this molecule has real potential as a strategy to protect patients from the body’s tendency to respond too strongly to some viruses,” said the researcher, Vladimir Y. Toshchakov, PhD, Assistant Professor in the UM SOM Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

According to a news release from the university, the key player in the response to flu is a group of molecules known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), which trigger the inflammatory response to the virus. Toshchakov focused on a molecule called 2R9, which can block signals from the toll-like receptors. 2R9 is known as a “decoy” molecule because it finds its way into the sequence of signals, and so hinders the signals, stopping the communication that leads to the inflammation.

In experiments on mice who were especially vulnerable to flu, Toshchakov found that 2R9 had a powerful effect. In the group treated with the molecule, only 22 percent died; by comparison, in the group that did not receive 2R9, around 90 percent died.

Toshchakov notes that 2R9 did not completely block the body’s response to the flu virus. This is crucial: a balance is necessary. If the body doesn’t mount any attack on the virus, the virus will proliferate, causing harm and perhaps death. But too much response is also harmful. 2R9 seems to modulate the response safely in the middle of these extremes.

“Eventually, we want to see whether this compound, and this pathway, can help treat people with the flu,” says Toshchakov.


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