|Image shows colorized transmission electron |
micrograph of Ebola virus. (Credit:
Frederick A. Murphy/CDC)
The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 11,300 lives and starkly revealed the lack of effective options for treating or preventing the disease. Progress has been made on developing vaccines, but there is still a need for antiviral therapies to protect health care workers and local populations in the event of future outbreaks.
A new study led by University of Iowa virologist Wendy Maury, suggests that gamma interferon, which is an FDA-approved drug, may have potential as an antiviral therapy to prevent Ebola infection when given either before or after exposure to the virus.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, found that gamma interferon, given up to 24 hours after exposure, can inhibit Ebola infection in mice and completely protect the animals from death.
Ebola infection appears to be a stepwise process. First, the virus targets and infects macrophages or dendritic cells, two types of immune system cells found in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Ebola then replicates in those cells. Following this initial infection, which happens at day 3 or 4 in non-human primates, Ebola virus is released into the blood and infects a plethora of other different cell populations.
The team showed that gamma interferon inhibits the virus's ability to infect human and mouse macrophages, in part by blocking virus replication in the cells. The researchers then showed that pretreating mice with interferon gamma 24 hours before exposure protects the animals from infection and death. To their surprise, the researchers found that treatment up to 24 hours after what would have been a lethal exposure also completely protected the animals from death, and the scientists could no longer detect any Ebola virus in the mouse cells. These findings suggest that interferon gamma may be useful both as a prophylaxis and post-exposure treatment against Ebola.
The team still has to determine how late gamma interferon can be given to the mice and still prevent infection. However, the results suggest a window of time after exposure when gamma interferon may be an effective antiviral therapy.
In addition to moving the studies into larger animal models, the researchers now plans to study the ability of gamma interferon to inhibit Ebola infection in conjunction with other developing antivirals.
"We know that gamma interferon blocks replication but not entry into cells. So combining an entry inhibitor with gamma interferon may allow us to reduce amount of gamma interferon needed and target two different steps in the virus's life cycle, which has been shown in HIV to be critically important for controlling virus," the researchers said.
Based on material originally posted by University of Iowa Health Care.