University of Missouri scientists have received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how two enzymes could be used to stop the influenza virus in its tracks. They will examine how the enzymes influence the immune system’s ability to fight infection.

Called sphingosine 1-phosphate lyase (SPL) and sphingosine kinase 1 (SK1), the two enzymes are among a group of metabolizing enzymes that affect many cellular processes, including cell growth, survival, movement, and specialization.

“We know these enzymes influence multiple biological mechanisms and could lead to promising drug candidates, but scientists have never studied how these enzymes could be used to fight influenza,” said Bumsuk Hahm, PhD, an assistant professor of surgery, molecular microbiology, and immunology. “There are a lot of seasonal flu strains that are resistant to current treatments, including some strains that could cause a global pandemic, so it’s important that we identify and develop new targets for the treatment of influenza.”

In a study published in the Journal of Virology, Hahm’s research revealed that the enzymes affect the immune system’s ability to detect viruses and resist infection. The NIH grant will allow him to translate his study from cells to mice, an important step toward the development of a new treatment for humans.

“We found that when we alter the enzymes, the SPL enzyme stops the flu virus’ ability to replicate, while the SK1 enzyme helps the virus to replicate,” said Hahm. “If we can specifically activate SPL or inhibit SK1, we can identify a target for drug therapies that will block the spread of the influenza virus.”

Source: University of Missouri School of Medicine