Researchers have discovered a way to trigger a preventive response to a flu infection with without any help from the virus itself or interferon, a potent infection fighter. According to Science Daily, the findings in mouse and human cells suggests that manipulating a natural process could someday be an alternative way to not just reduce the severity of the flu, but prevent infection altogether. The method involves raising the level of a protein that is known to be effective against all strains of influenza ever tested.

The scientists discovered that boosting that protein’s level in cells before the virus shows up is best for infection prevention, which in doing so involves suppressing the function of another protein. In a series of experiments in mouse and human lung cells, the researchers showed that inhibiting the enzyme NEDD4 from degrading IFITM3, the protein effective against influenza, which led to an accumulation of IFITM3 in cells and greater resistance to infection by flu viruses.

The Science Daily news report notes that being able to stimulate this response is important for many reasons, not the least of which is keeping interferon out of the process. Interferon’s infection-fighting power has severe side effects that include flu-like symptoms.

Jacob Yount, senior author of the study, says, “The flu vaccine needs to change every year because the virus is constantly mutating. What we’re doing is targeting a more fundamental process that is not specific to any particular strain of the virus.” Yount adds, “If we were to have an outbreak of some pandemic influenza virus similar to what we experienced in 2009, I could envision using this technique to help people who are particularly vulnerable to infection.”

Further, Yount states, “We figured out a way to induce just this single interferon response — the most important thing interferon does for flu. That was a huge finding — that you don’t need an infection or interferon to increase the level of IFITM3. The steady-state level of the protein is enough to inhibit the virus if you get rid of NEDD4.”

Source: Science Daily