SYDNEY, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The influenza A virus can kill key white blood cells and hide among them like a Trojan horse to aid its spread in the body, a discovery that points to the development of new therapeutics for infectious diseases, according to the latest Australian research.
The researchers, using a series of biochemical approaches and high-resolution microscopy, found that the virus can kill monocytes white blood cells through programmed cell death and induce their fragmentation, according to a La Trobe University statement late Friday.
This "Trojan horse" phenomenon may allow the virus to efficiently spread within the body, lead researcher Georgia Atkin-Smith said.
"Monocytes are important for our immune system's ability to destroy invaders and facilitate repair. We can describe this type of white blood cell as something akin to reserve forces in the military," Atkin-Smith said.
"We discovered the virus can effectively infiltrate these vital cells, triggering their death and fragmentation through a process we call the 'dance of death'. These tiny fragments can then act as Trojan horse vesicles, harboring a series of viral components that can both aid viral spread and induce an important anti-viral immune response."
The researchers also reported that a commonly prescribed anti-psychotic could help limit the spread of the influenza A virus in laboratory cell culture assays and preliminary mouse models.
Influenza A virus was linked to more than 700 deaths in Australia in 2019, according to the university. Globally, the virus causes 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide each year and is responsible for about 290,000 to 690,000 respiratory deaths annually.
Finding novel ways of virus spread is essential for the development of new therapeutics, Atkin-Smith said.
"Influenza viruses can frequently mutate. While flu vaccines are incredibly important, their effectiveness varies from 40 to 60 percent in Australia," Atkin-Smith said.
"Where a flu vaccine works to build your immune system to fight against infection, we're working to discover a way to overcome the virus once infection has occurred."
The latest findings, which were published in scientific journal Communications Biology, build on earlier research from cell biologist Ivan Poon, who had tracked the final stages of cell death and the ways in which dying cells are removed from the body, according to the university.
"For more than 50 years, scientists thought cell fragmentation was a random process and dying cell fragments were just debris in the body," Poon said.
"This study is the first to demonstrate dying cell fragments can aid the trafficking of influenza A virus between dying and healthy cells. The continuation of this research is important for the development of new therapeutics for infectious diseases," Poon said. Enditem