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'Wrong' immune response in human bodies lead to infection, researchers say

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (

According to researchers, some bacteria, including deadly tuberculosis, are able to gain a foothold and spread infection because the body launches the "wrong" immune response, say researchers. The findings may explain why viruses can make people more susceptible to bacterial infections.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists say that instead of fighting off tuberculosis, people with a severe infection produce a protein which attacks viruses. About 8.7 million people are infected with tuberculosis every year.

A spike in tuberculosis infections in the spring may be linked to the effects of viruses circulating in winter, experts suggested.

To back up these claims, U.S. researchers first identified the phenomenon using leprosy, which is caused by a similar bacterium to tuberculosis.

Examining skin lesions in leprosy patients, the team found that two different immune proteins were present. Patients with a milder form of the disease were found to have a protein associated with a bacterial immune response - interferon-gamma.

In patients with a more serious form of leprosy, a protein associated with a viral response, called interferon-beta was prominent.

The genes for interferon-beta, a virus-fighting protein were more frequently found in the blood of tuberculosis patients with more severe disease.

Researchers said in those with severe disease, the body was responding as if it was attacking a virus, enabling the bacteria to remain hidden and reproduce unchecked within cells.

Not only is interferon-beta an ineffective weapon against bacteria, it can block the action of interferon gamma - which is when bacteria can gain a foothold, the researchers said.

Professor Robert Modlin, dermatology and microbiology expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the study raises the possibility that a decrease or increase of one of these two proteins could shift the balance from mild to more serious disease.

"We may find that therapeutic interventions to block or enhance specific interferon responses may be an effective strategy to alter the balance in favor of protection against bacterial diseases."

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