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Researchers discover how cytomegalovirus damages immune system
Tuesday 14 August 2012
“Most of us carry a virus that ages our immune system and shortens our lives. Can we beat it?” begins a feature story in the June 23 issue of New Scientist.
The article (“Insidious virus steals our years”) goes on to explain how this virus - the herpesvirus called human cytomegalovirus (CMV) - does its damage; and previews research in the UK to test antivirals that could “help claw back” CMV's immune damage and pursue a preventive vaccine. This work is particularly important for people with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), many of whom are subject to CMV activations.
50% to 85% of the Population Infected
Half or more of the US, UK and Australian populations carry CMV - most often after infection in early childhood when it generally causes a bout of mild mono-like symptoms - without knowing it. But, like all herpesviruses (e.g., the chickenpox/varicella zoster virus and mononucleosis/Epstein-Barr virus), CMV can lie dormant in the body after the acute infection with the ability to reactivate.
Most people are aware that the chickenpox virus, for example, hides in the nerve fibers and often reactivates as painful, nerve-damaging “shingles” eruptions in older or immune-compromised adults. But until HIV/AIDS came along, researchers assumed CMV was harmless in healthy adults, the New Scientist article explains.
How CMV Decimates Immune Function
The AIDS researchers found that - in people infected with the HIV retrovirus - CMV was active and producing bad, sometimes life-threatening problems. And in investigating CMV, they discovered that it insidiously cripples the immune system as follows:
New Hope – Antiviral Trial and Vaccine Development
Dr. Moss reported on his team’s finding that the number of T-cells able to recognize CMV increased in CMV-infected mice treated with an antiviral drug “used to treat herpesviruses.” Meanwhile, in untreated mice, the number of CMV-dedicated T-cells diminished. Immune resistance also appeared to improve in the treated mice vs the untreated ones.
Now, according to the New Scientist article, Dr. Moss's team is preparing to run an antiviral therapy trial in a cohort of people over age 65, to see if they can achieve similar improvements in infected humans.
Meanwhile, Dr. Phil Stevenson at the University of Cambridge is pursuing the development of a vaccine against CMV. So far his team has discovered, in intriguing animal studies that made infected cells glow using a protein that gives fireflies their light, that Epstein-Barr virus invades via cells in the nose.
Now Stevenson, et al. believe they’re close to identifying specifically which olfactory cells are involved, and how herpesviruses like EBV and potentially CMV are able to bind to them; and are on the trail of antibodies that could keep the viruses from binding to their target cells (i.e., the basis for a preventive vaccine).
The above originally appeared here.
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