University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers for the first time uncovered new details about a decoy molecule that can help sharply reduce the risk of flu death. The flu virus can be lethal, but what is often just as dangerous is the body's own reaction.
This immune response consists of an inflammatory attack, meant to kill the virus, but if it gets too aggressive, this counterattack can end up harming the body's own tissues, causing damage that can lead to death.
Researcher Vladimir Y. Toshchakov said they think this molecule has real potential as a strategy to protect patients from the body's tendency to respond too strongly to some viruses.
A key player in the response to flu is a group of molecules known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), which trigger the inflammatory response to the virus. When this response spirals out of control it can very often be deadly.
Toshchakov focused on a molecule called 2R9, which can block signals from the toll-like receptors. 2R9 is known as a "decoy" molecule because it finds its way into the sequence of signals, and so hinders the signals, stopping the communication that leads to the inflammation.
In experiments on mice that were especially vulnerable to flu, he found that 2R9 had a powerful effect. In the group treated with the molecule, only 22 percent died; by comparison, in the group that did not receive 2R9, around 90 percent died.