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Overactivity of epigenetic modifying protein BMI-1 found to underlie poor antibody responses to chronic viral infection

05 February 2022

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A sudden attack can cause chaos and damage. But a long-fought battle of attrition can have even greater eventual consequences. When chronic infections set in, they can cause long term illness and a decline in health. Antibodies, which typically see off any infection, put up an uncharacteristically ineffective defence against the chronic menace, allowing the infection to establish itself firmly in place. This underperformance isn’t well understood, so researchers investigated a particular protein involved in regulating the immune system, BMI-1. They found that in mice with a chronic viral infection (spleen cells pictured 7 days post infection, different cell types highlighted in different colours) BMI-1 was over-active, which caused the immune system to produce weaker antibodies. Blocking the protein boosted antibodies’ power to clear away the virus and reduced the presence of other factors limiting their effectiveness (yellow). If effective in humans, this approach could help patients overcome stubborn infections, clearing the way for a healthy recovery.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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