A recent study shows that the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) may use a wide range of tactics to decoy the immune system while the virus makes a separate attack, outmaneuvering the immune system’s response to the viral invaders.
Because of these various attack strategies, HCV may even sacrifice part of itself in order to protect its other, more significant parts from the immune response.
"The members of viral populations in Hepatitis C don't act like separate entities; the different variants work together almost like a team," Leonid Bunimovich, a regent's professor in the Georgia Tech School of Mathematics, said. "There is a clear separation of responsibilities, including variants we call 'altruistic' because they sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole viral population. These variants seem to draw the immune system attack on themselves."
HCV, which infects approximately 170 million people around the world, can cause cancer and severe liver damage after showing no serious symptoms for many years. This new discovery could help researchers develop better vaccines and treatments for the disease.
"The virus variants do not communicate directly with one another, but in this system of viruses and antibodies, they interact through the antibodies," Bunimovich said. "When one antibody-producing cell responds to one variant, and then to another, that is a form of interaction that affects both variants. An indirect interaction occurs when the virus variants interact with the same antibody in the network."
Further details are available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, which was published this month.