Massachusetts General Hospital
Modifying the Immune System's Harmful Responses to Influenza Virus
Influenza infection continues to cause a large burden of respiratory disease despite vaccination and antiviral therapy. Respiratory failure that occurs in some patients during influenza is thought to result from excessive immune system responses. We have found that immune cells called regulatory T cells critically enhance survival after influenza infection by modulating many aspects of the immune system's inflammatory response to the influenza virus. We will study how regulatory T cells form distinct subsets in the lung during influenza infection and how these subsets may play roles in modifying different parts of the immune response. These findings could provide novel therapeutic pathways for modulating harmful immune responses to the influenza virus.
Update: We have found that there are at least two distinct subtypes of Regulatory T cells (Tregs) that respond to influenza infection in the lung. We have thoroughly characterized these cells and have shown, using conditional knock-out mice, that these Treg subtypes have unique functions in modulating the host response to influenza. These data imply that manipulation of specific Treg subsets could be a therapeutic approach to severe influenza.