Natural Human Proteins Prevent H1N1 and Other Virus Infections

Scientists have discovered a family of human proteins that prevent or slow H1N1 influenza particles, as well as certain other viruses, from infecting human cells at the earliest stage of the virus life cycle. The anti-viral action happens sometime after the virus attaches itself to the cell and before it delivers its pathogenic cargo into the cell. The researchers believe that their findings may lead to better ways to treat influenza and other viral infections. The protein family, called interferon-inducible transmembrane proteins (IFITM), was first discovered 25 years ago as products of one of the thousands of genes turned on by interferon. Since then, not much else has been discovered about the IFITM family. Versions of the IFITM genes are found in the genomes of many creatures, from fish to chickens to mice to people, suggesting that the antiviral mechanism has been working successfully for millions of years in protecting organisms from viral infections. In the current study, the surprisingly versatile antiviral proteins were found to protect cells against several devastating human viruses—not only the current influenza A strains including H1N1 and strains going back to the 1930s, but also the West Nile virus and dengue virus. While IFITM proteins did not protect against HIV or the hepatitis C virus, experiments suggested they may defend against other viruses, including the yellow fever virus. The report was published online on December 17 in Cell. [Press release 1] [Press release 2] [Cell article]
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