Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ending the perfect storm: Protein key to beating flu pandemics

Date:
May 8, 2014
Source:
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Summary:
A protein called SOCS4 has been shown to act as a handbrake on the immune system's runaway reaction to flu infection, providing a possible means of minimizing the impact of flu pandemics. Scientists have found that without SOCS4 the immune response to influenza infection is slowed and there is a vast increase in the number of damaging inflammatory molecules in the lungs. This flood of inflammatory molecules, known as a 'cytokine storm', is thought to contribute to flu-related deaths in humans.

Dr. Lukasz Kedzierski, Dr. Sandra Nicholson and colleagues have found the protein SOCS4 plays an important role in regulating the immune system's response to the flu.
Credit: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

A protein called SOCS4 has been shown to act as a handbrake on the immune system's runaway reaction to flu infection, providing a possible means of minimising the impact of flu pandemics.

Scientists from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have found that without SOCS4 the immune response to influenza infection is slowed and there is a vast increase in the number of damaging inflammatory molecules in the lungs. This flood of inflammatory molecules, known as a 'cytokine storm', is thought to contribute to flu-related deaths in humans.

Dr Lukasz Kedzierski, Dr Sandra Nicholson and colleagues from the institute, in collaboration with Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska and colleagues from The University of Melbourne, made the discovery, which was published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

Suppressors of cytokine signalling (SOCS) molecules control the flow of chemical messages inside cells and were discovered by institute researchers in the 1990s. Immune cells release signalling molecules called cytokines to trigger an immune response that protects the body from infection. If too many cytokines are released, SOCS proteins suppress the activity of the cytokines to prevent unwanted inflammation and tissue damage.

Dr Kedzierski said removing SOCS4 upset the normal immune response to influenza infection. "We showed that, following influenza infection, the immune system did not respond as quickly as expected, and initially sent key immune cells to the wrong location in the body," he said. "In addition, inflammatory cytokines began to accumulate in the lungs, leading to a cytokine storm that causes significant damage to the tissue."

A cytokine storm could result in increased severity of symptoms and, in many instances, to multiple organ failure and death, Dr Kedzierski said. "A cytokine storm is like an uncontrolled chain reaction, and the cytokines that normally stimulate the immune response continue to trigger other immune cells to produce more cytokines. Our research suggests that SOCS4 keeps this response under control, preventing a cytokine storm in the lungs that can lead to a build up of fluid that restricts breathing and can ultimately result in death."

Cytokine storms are believed to be the primary cause of death in young and otherwise healthy people who are infected with influenza, particularly pandemic flu strains.

"Many of the estimated 50 million deaths caused by the 1918 flu epidemic are believed to have been caused by these cytokine storms," Dr Kedzierski said. "Cytokine storms in patients' lungs are also thought to be responsible for many of the 500,000 influenza-related deaths that occur around the world each year."

Dr Nicholson, laboratory head in the institute's Inflammation division, said the role of SOCS4 in the body was previously unknown. "When other SOCS proteins are removed from laboratory models, their function and the effect of their loss becomes immediately apparent," she said. "However, the SOCS4-deficient model appeared to be completely normal. It was only when we looked at the response to infection that we found the immune system was significantly affected by the loss of SOCS4."

Dr Nicholson said drugs that enhanced or mimicked SOCS4 action could be a useful way of treating pandemic or more aggressive flu strains, as well as other infections.

"Knowing the target and function of SOCS4 may lead to us being able to control inflammation in severe cases of the flu or to the development of new, preventive therapies," she said. "Our research so far is very promising and we have some strong leads to pursue in finding out exactly how this molecule works."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lukasz Kedzierski, Edmond M. Linossi, Tatiana B. Kolesnik, E. Bridie Day, Nicola L. Bird, Benjamin T. Kile, Gabrielle T. Belz, Donald Metcalf, Nicos A. Nicola, Katherine Kedzierska, Sandra E. Nicholson. Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling 4 (SOCS4) Protects against Severe Cytokine Storm and Enhances Viral Clearance during Influenza Infection. PLoS Pathogens, 2014; 10 (5): e1004134 DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004134

Cite This Page:

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. "Ending the perfect storm: Protein key to beating flu pandemics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140508172225.htm>.
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. (2014, May 8). Ending the perfect storm: Protein key to beating flu pandemics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140508172225.htm
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. "Ending the perfect storm: Protein key to beating flu pandemics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140508172225.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is blaming doctors for the low number of children being vaccinated for HPV. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Newsy (July 24, 2014) Sheik Umar Khan has treated many of the people infected in the Ebola outbreak, and now he's become one of them. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins