The 2013-2016 West African Ebola virus epidemic brought widespread attention to the lack of basic knowledge about this infectious agent. In fact, so little is known about the pathogenesis of the virion that developing a treatment or vaccine has been significantly stalled. Researchers at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM)-Carolinas campus are exploring a novel mechanism that the Ebola virus uses to shut down the body’s ability to fight off the infection.
Jillian Bradley, PhD, and Randal K. Gregg, PhD, along with Class of 2019 VCOM-Carolinas students Nathan Gentry and Ashley Corey, recently elucidated their findings to date in an article titled “Ebola virus secreted glycoprotein decreases the anti-viral immunity of macrophages in early inflammatory responses,” published in the journal Cellular Immunology.
“The work we’re doing could lead to a potential treatment for acutely infected Ebola patients,” said Dr. Bradley, “which is very positive news since currently only supportive care is available.”
The Ebola virion contains a lipid membrane, called an envelope, and several different proteins. One of these proteins is secreted into the blood of infected individuals in especially high quantities. When the VCOM-Carolinas researchers examined this isolated protein, they found that it shut down specific immune cells called macrophages. Once disabled by the protein, the macrophages are prevented from launching a defense against the virus. This could allow the virus to spread throughout the body without much resistance.
“Interestingly, the protein seems to work in a very specific manner in that it shuts down the anti-viral pro-inflammatory systems, but keeps the suppressive functions working,” Dr. Bradley explained. “This indicates that the protein is utilizing a specific mechanism to cause this inhibition.”
What pathways are involved in this inhibition? What about other cell types in the immune system? Are the cells completely immobilized? Is there a way to counter this inhibition to give patients a fighting chance? The team’s future work will explore these questions, among many others. Hopefully, their findings will aid in determining a treatment that will allow the immune system to fight the Ebola virus, clearing the infection from the body, and ultimately helping create more efficient vaccines to prevent the threat of a widespread outbreak in the future.
Citation: Jillian H. Bradley, Ametria Harrison, Ashley Corey, Nathan Gentry, Randal K. Gregg, Ebola virus secreted glycoprotein decreases the anti-viral immunity of macrophages in early inflammatory responses, Cellular Immunity (2017), 10.1016/j.cellimm.2017.11.009