Health Observance

National Influenza Vaccination Week

John Arnst
December 02, 2019

The year may be winding down, but flu season is still heating up. If you’ve been slacking on getting your annual shot, it’s not too late — in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated the first week of December as National Influenza Vaccination Week. While the flu vaccine remains the best line of defense against the fever, fatigue and range of respiratory symptoms of a genuine influenza infection, ASBMB members have been investigating how influenza viruses interact with our cells and uncovering leads for new antivirals and improved vaccines.

Why glycosylation matters in building a better flu vaccine

If influenza viruses were DNA-based, we may well have developed a universal vaccine decades ago. But, as retroviruses, they have a tendency to rack up errors every time they replicate, gradually changing the makeup of their hemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins and slipping ever beyond the protective yoke of each season’s vaccine. While efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine are under way at labs around the world, flu vaccine design processes currently don’t account for the glycosylation that influenza A viruses, the primary cause of human influenza illnesses, use to evade host antibodies. Deborah Chang and Joseph Zaia at Boston University recently made the case in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics that developing methods to determine site-specific glycosylation of glycoproteins in influenza A viruses could enhance the efficacy of future flu vaccines.

Forever in search of new antivirals

Developing new antivirals can feel like an exercise in futility — just over a year after the drug Xofluza was approved for distribution in the United States, scientists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that influenza viruses in a quarter of patients who took the drug developed resistance to it. While few drugs make it all the way through the development pipeline, biochemists are regularly discovering compounds that can take advantage of novel mechanisms to inhibit viral replication.

Histone deacetylases play a role in preventing influenza replication

Like almost all viruses, influenza A viruses hijack host machinery to replicate. In response to evidence that an optimal acetylation environment in host cells is favorable to this process, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand investigated the effects of histone deacetylases, which negatively regulate acetylation, against IAVs.

Influenza viruses love lipids

After influenza has hijacked a host cell’s machinery to crank out its RNA and proteins, it needs to get them wrapped in a protective lipid envelope so that new virions can venture forth and infect more host cells. Researchers at the University of Singapore recently used a mass spectrometry-based lipidomics approach to investigate how IAVs interact with the host cells’ lipid metabolism during different stages of infection. They found that function of membrane-bound peroxisomes to be a common metabolic denominator and a potential key determinant for influenza virus replication.

Gut microbes, glycosphingolipids and influenza

Invariant natural killer T cells are versatile — they thwart tumors, attack pathogenic bacteria viruses and play a role in autoimmune diseases — and the glycosphingolipid α-galactosylceramide, produced by Bacteroides in the human gut, is key to their activation. Researchers at the University of Marburg and German Cancer Research Center recently found that conditions including colitis, consumption of a Western diet and infection by influenza A virus tend to decrease levels of αGalCer. This suggests that modulating gut microbial-derived immunogenic lipids including αGalCerML may impact immunity.

Hosts and their viruses: a thematic series of review articles

Hot off the heels of the swine flu epidemic — an H5N1 strain from the antigenic shift that happened when two starkly different influenza strains infected the same pig population — Charles Samuel helped organize a JBC minireview series with the aim of understanding the structural basis for interactions between influenza viruses and host cells. Read the series.

John Arnst

John Arnst is a science writer for ASBMB Today.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Science

Science highlights or most popular articles

Lessons from how the polio vaccine
News

Lessons from how the polio vaccine

September 26, 2020

Despite the polio vaccine’s long-term success, manufacturers, government leaders and the nonprofit that funded the vaccine’s development made several missteps.

From the journals: MCP
Journal News

From the journals: MCP

September 25, 2020

How marine iguanas mark their turf. A new way to study Parkinson’s disease. Glycosylation in influenza A. Read about recent papers on these topics in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

Gut microbiome shaped by dietary sphingolipids
Journal News

Gut microbiome shaped by dietary sphingolipids

September 22, 2020

A new tracing method described in the Journal of Lipid Research offers clues on how a macronutrient interacts with the microbes that live inside us.

From the journals: JBC
Journal News

From the journals: JBC

September 21, 2020

Proteases that fire up the flu. A sulfate pocket to take out MRSA. Proteins that prompt cancer protrusions. Read about recent papers on these topics and more.

AeroNabs promise powerful, inhalable protection against COVID-19
News

AeroNabs promise powerful, inhalable protection against COVID-19

September 20, 2020

As the world awaits vaccines to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, UC San Francisco scientists have devised a novel approach to halting the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.

Keeping bone and muscle strong on the ISS
News

Keeping bone and muscle strong on the ISS

September 19, 2020

Researchers helped mice stay mighty with an experiment to counter the effects of microgravity. The gene treatment might also enhance muscle and bone health on Earth — and in humans.