How cells use nutrients when viruses attack may affect disease severity

Researchers suspect that how cells use nutrients in the presence of a virus may determine the outcome and severity of disease.

The immune system has long been touted as the body’s primary defense against invading viruses, with the understanding that a strong immune response quickly clears an infection while a weak response allows it to linger, leading to prolonged illness or even death.

Now, researchers are studying an entirely different system — the body’s ability to use nutrients at the cellular level — to predict disease response and severity.

Clovis Palmer, an immunologist at Tulane University, studies metabolic changes resulting from viral infections. In a review of the literature in Natural metabolismPalmer analyzed a body of evidence that looked at the metabolic changes that occur in cells when viral invaders, such as HIV, hepatitis B or SARS-CoV-2, pose a threat.

Palmer concludes that how cells, even non-immune cells, utilize nutrients in the presence of a viral pathogen can determine the outcome and severity of disease in the early stages of infection, or even long after. that the pathogen has left the body.

Certain molecules on the surface of a cell determine how nutrients are used. These allow nutrients like glucose and fats to facilitate energy production or, if necessary, mount an offense against invading pathogens. Under these conditions, nutrients strengthen and strengthen the cell. But viral pathogens can also hijack these surface molecules to enter the cell and then use the nutrients to replicate.

“Whether the nutrients are used to strengthen and defend the cell or are diverted by the virus depends on host conditions like advanced age, nutritional status and obesity,” Palmer explains. “We saw that these were all important risk factors for the worst COVID outcomes, but we didn’t really know what was driving it.”

Understanding how cells use nutrients in the presence of viral pathogens in the early stages of infection is critical to developing treatments that can empower the cell, not the virus. While most antiviral drugs target the virus, Palmer seeks to prevent or mitigate disease by keeping nutrients on the cell side.

Palmer is working with Jay Rappaport, director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center and professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine, on rewiring the metabolic response in non-human primate models of COVID and HIV to prevent and treat long-term symptoms.

“We know that when metabolism is impaired, susceptibility to infection is increased,” says Rappaport. “Modulation of the metabolic response has broad implications for all infectious diseases, from optimizing immunity to mitigating the effects of aging, autoimmunity, and other disease factors.”

This article was originally published by Tulane University. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.


How cells use nutrients when viruses attack may affect disease severity

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