MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Flu research may alter treatment approach

A University of California, San Diego School of Medicine research group revealed on Friday how the influenza A virus moves through the respiratory cells' protective layer to infect them.

The research, which was published in Virology Journal, could lead to new drugs and treatment that would inhibit viral activity more effectively and possibly prevent flu infections.

Common strains of influenza seek and take advantage of sialic acids, which are sugar cells that coat all animal cells. The H1N1 and H3N2 strains use the protein hemagglutinin to disrupt the sialic acid receptors before penetrating the cell. The influenza virus then uses neuraminidase to split the sialic acids to exit cells and spread the infection.

Principal investigator Pascal Gagneux, an associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UCSD, and his team of researchers determined flu viruses counteract the body's natural barrier by using neuraminidase to remove themselves from sialic acids.

"The airway's mucus layer is constantly being shed and renewed, within a couple of hours the entire layer is replaced by a new layer," Miriam Cohen, PhD, an assistant project scientist in Gagneux's lab, said. "A drug or compound that slows down neuraminidase activity rather than completely inhibit its activity will suffice to enhance the natural protective effect of mucus and prevent infection."

Gagneux said the discovery of influenza's sialic acid interaction would likely change how researchers and pharmaceutical companies approach viruses and flu therapies.