A new research project underway at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin is investigating how, and under what conditions, viruses can persist inside the body and remain capable of triggering new infections. As part of this endeavor, the researchers are studying the nature of virus-host interactions in vampire bats with a new type of Morbillivirus, the genus of viruses to which the human measles virus belongs. The project is being funded by the Human Frontier Science Program and has been awarded approximately €900,000 over three years.
Some viruses are not cleared following infection and instead persist inside the body. They remain capable of triggering new infections many years later. While virus persistence, as this phenomenon is known, is common in some DNA viruses, it is much less common in RNA viruses. One typical example of a persisting RNA virus infection is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), an untreatable brain inflammation caused by the measles virus, which develops many years after the primary measles infection and is invariably fatal. How these viruses are able to survive inside the host organism is the question now being studied by an international team of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Drexler of Charité's Institute of Virology. Working alongside Prof. Dr. Paul Duprex of the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Daniel Streicker of the University of Glasgow, Prof. Drexler discovered that Latin American vampire bats carry viruses that are genetically related to the measles virus and thus provide a suitable test model.
"When compared to humans and other mammals, bats appear to be particularly good at dealing with viruses," explains Prof. Drexler. He adds: "This is why we are now studying viruses in bat colonies, and why we will be carrying out experiments that will help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between host organism and virus." The researchers are hoping to gain fundamental insights into RNA virus persistence. Looking beyond the immediate project, Prof. Drexler remarks: "This may even help us to better understand and study SSPE - a terrible and vaccine-preventable disease."
Human Frontier Science Program
The Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) is an international funding program that supports groundbreaking research at the frontiers of the life sciences. One of the most prestigious funding programs in the field of life sciences, it provides support to international collaborations pursuing particularly innovative and creative research endeavors. All funding awards are made by international review committees.