Activation of influenza viruses in the airways


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Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious respiratory illness that affects millions of people each year and poses a continuous threat to public health. In particular, the emergence of a new influenza A virus for which there is little or no immunity in the human population may provoke an influenza pandemic, similar to that of the Spanish flu in 1918.

Currently available measures for the control of influenza in humans are vaccination and antiviral medications, which target the viral neuraminidase NA or the M2 protein. But treatment options are challenged due to the development of drug-resistant viruses for both M2 and NA inhibitors and furthermore the production of influenza vaccines against a newly emerged virus requires 4–6 months, highlighting the urgent need for novel drug targets.

Leading experts in the field Eva Böttcher-Friebertshäuser, Hans-Dieter Klenk and Wolfgang Garten of the Institute of Virology, Philipps-University Marburg present a timely, authoritative review published in FEMS Pathogens and Disease on the proteolytic cleavage of the influenza hemagglutinin (HA), an activation mechanism that is essential for the infectivity of influenza viruses, including the recently emerged H7N9 that will be of considerable interest to virologists, microbiologists and pharmaceutical companies alike.

Interestingly, certain bacteria have been demonstrated to support HA activation either by secreting proteases that cleave HA or due to activation of cellular proteases and thereby may contribute to virus spread and enhanced pathogenicity. As a result, viral-bacterial pneumonia and secondary bacterial pneumonia due to concomitant or subsequent infection with bacteria, respectively, contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality of influenza infections.

HA-activating proteases have been shown to represent potential drug targets for influenza treatment. The authors suggest that the combination of appropriate protease inhibitors with current antivirals and/or antimicrobial drugs provide a novel and promising approach that should be considered for the treatment of both influenza and viral-bacterial pneumonia. /Gillian van Beest

Böttcher-Friebertshäuser, E. et al., Activation  of influenza viruses by proteases from host cells and bacteria in the human airway epithelium. FEMS Pathogens and Disease 2013.

Posted in Biotechnology, Medical, Microbiology | Tagged BiotecVisions, influenza virus hemagglutinin; proteolytic cleavage; viral-bacterial pneumonia; influenza treatment by protease inhibitors; treatment | Leave a reply

The gut of the matter: Development of the virtual stomach

Food is slowly digested by movements of the gut, which is underpinned by an electrophysiological event called “slow wave activity”. A special class of pacemaker cells called the interstitial cells of Cajal are responsible for autonomously generating slow waves and regulating the motility of the surrounding smooth muscles in the gut. Given the important functions these pacemaker cells perform, it is not surprising that degradation of these cells can lead to significant motility-related digestive diseases, such as gastroparesis.

Adaption of modern extracellular electrical recording techniques such as high-resolution mapping has led to a series of discoveries of the conduction pathway of slow waves in the stomach. It has been shown that normal gastric slow waves emerge from a pacemaker region in the upper body (corpus) of the stomach along the greater curvature. It takes about a minute for gastric slow waves to reach the terminal (pylorus) of the stomach, during which multiple waves can simultaneously propagate across the stomach.

A key challenge is to understand the integrative functions of the pacemaker cells, distributions of these cells as networks in the gut, and co-regulation of hormonal and neural functions.

One approach to solving this complex puzzle is in-silico research, using biophysically based mathematical models that encapsulate physiologically realistic functions – as discussed in our article in WIRES Systems Biology and Medicine. Parameters in these models can be updated to represent experimental interventions and gain insights to the coordinated functions of the gut. /Peng Du


Du et al., Toward the virtual stomach: progress in multiscale modeling of gastric electrophysiology and motility. WIRES Sys. Biol. Med. 2013

Posted in Biotechnology, Medical | Tagged BiotecVisions, Digestion, electrophysiology, multiscale modeling | Leave a reply

Making supernatural foods: Eggs

EggA lot has been written about the importance of dietary omega-3 fatty acids – a typical source of which is fish and fish oil. But for those who do not like seafood, scientists have been working on improving some other natural foods that are normally poor sources of these nutrients. Recently, we have mentioned for example functional cereals (see: Making supernatural foods: Cereals) . A Feature article in Lipid Technology reports another such “supernatural” product, omega-3 rich eggs. The addition of autotrophic microalgae to the diet of laying hens can increase not only the levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), but also of nutritionally relevant carotenoids in the egg yolk. However, as a consequence, the egg yolk will be colored a deep red instead of the usual yellow. Such eggs are of course perfectly safe to eat, but do people like them? The article presents the results of a survey conducted among more than 500 people in Belgium to investigate the knowledge concerning omega-3 and interest of consumers in such functional eggs. /Lucie K.

Lemahieu C. et al. Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid enriched eggs by microalgal supplementation. Lipid Technology 2013

Posted in Biotechnology, Food | Tagged Algae, BiotecVisions, Eggs, food, lipids, LiTe, Omega-3 | Leave a reply