Magazine article Science News

Herpesvirus Decimates Immune-Cell Soldiers

Magazine article Science News

Herpesvirus Decimates Immune-Cell Soldiers

Article excerpt

Natural killer cells are the foot soldiers of the immune system. These white cells home in on virus-infected cells, lock onto their target, and deliver chemicals that can kill the target ceil. If the killer cells real function or are killed themselves, an important component of the immune attack is diminished.

Virologists blame herpes viruses for a number of human ills, ranging from cold sores to heart disease (see p. 216). Now, laboratory studies by researcher Paolo Lusso and his colleagues suggest that infection with herpesvirus-6 can dampen the body's natural-killer-cell response. In fact, the new findings hint that infection with this herpesvirus may play a role in immune illnesses such as AIDS.

In 1989, Lusso's team showed that herpesvirus-6 attacks another kind of white cell, the CD4 T-lymphocyte (SN: 1/28/89, p. 55). AIDS researchers know that such T-lymphocytes are the primary target of the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiencyvirus (HIV). In the April 1 NATURE, Lusso's team demonstrates that herpesvirus-6 also infects and destroys natural killer cells, which are known to function abnormally in HIV-infected people.

It is the first time that researchers have shown that natural killer cells are vulnerable to any kind of viral attack, comments researcher Anthony L. Komaroff of Harvard Medical School in Boston. The finding suggests that rather than being killed itself, herpesvirus-6 can turn and annihilate its immune-cell attacker, at least in the test tube, says Lusso, who is at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. …

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