Co-author of the study, Sadis Matalon, claims, “The recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza and the rapid spread of this strain across the world highlights the need to better understand how this virus damages the lungs and to find new treatments. Additionally, our research shows that antioxidants may prove beneficial in the treatment of flu.”
The researchers demonstrated that the flu virus is able to damage the lungs with its “M2 protein” which attacks the cells that line the inner surfaces of our lungs, epithelial cells. Specifically, the M2 protein disrupts the ability of epithelial cells to remove liquid from inside the lungs, setting the stage for pneumonia and other lung complications.
The researchers conducted three sets of experiments using the M2 protein and the lung protein they damaged. First, researchers injected frog eggs with the M2 protein and the lung protein and found that the function of the lung protein was significantly decreased. The scientists then isolated the segment of the M2 protein responsible for the damage to the lung protein. They then showed that without this segment, the protein was unable to cause damage.
Surprisingly, when researchers re-injected the full M2 protein and the lung protein into frog eggs and added drugs known to remove antioxidants, this also prevented M2 from damaging the lung protein. This experiment was replicated using cells from human lungs with exactly the same results.
Editor in chief for the FASEB journal, Gerald Weissmann, concludes, “Although vaccines will remain the first line of intervention against the flu for a long time to come, this study opens the door for entirely new treatments geared toward stopping the virus after you’re sick.”