Researchers Have Discovered How The Ebola Virus Disables Our Immune Response

A doctor works in a laboratory on collected samples of the Ebola virus at the Centre for Disease Control in Entebbe, Uganda, following an outbreak that killed 16 people in 2012.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is killing up to 90% of those infected, according to the World Health Organization, but little is known as to how the virus works against the human body.

Researchers are now revealing, in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, how Ebola blocks and disables the body’s natural immune response.

Understanding how Ebola disarms immune defences will be crucial in the development of new treatments for the disease.

Dr Gaya Amarasinghe and colleagues from Washington University School of Medicine along with collaborators from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas show how the Ebola protein VP24 disrupts the cell’s innate immune response, a crucial early step on the virus’s path to causing deadly disease.

“We’ve known for a long time that infection with Ebola obstructs an important immune compound called interferon,” said Amarasinghe.

“Now we know how Ebola does this, and that can guide the development of new treatments.”

According to the researchers, VP24 works by preventing the transcription factor STAT1, which carries interferon’s antiviral message, from entering the nucleus and initiating an immune response.

As part of a rapid immune response, the cell allows STAT1 an “emergency access lane” to the nucleus. Rather than block all nuclear transfer, however, VP24 focuses on blocking STAT1’s “emergency access lane”.

Dr Chris Basler of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says one of the key reasons that Ebola virus is so deadly is because it disrupts the body’s immune response to the infection.

“Figuring out how VP24 promotes this disruption will suggest new ways to defeat the virus,” he says.

These findings come at a critical time for Ebola research. If researchers carry out further study of VP24, it can open the door to new possibilities for disarming the protein’s effect on immune response.

More than 1,000 people have died during the latest outbreak in in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

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