How does Ebola cause lymphopenia?

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Published today in PLoS Pathogens, a team of researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (TX, USA), have potentially identified a mechanism that allows the Ebola virus to deplete T cells and therefore, prevent the host from producing a virus-specific adaptive immune response.

Currently, clinicians use the degree of lymphopenia (low white blood T cell count) as a marker for Ebola infection severity and prognosis.

“People who survive an Ebola infection are able to maintain their T cell levels over the course of the infection, whereas low T cell levels are nearly universally seen in fatalities” stated senior author Alex Bukreyev (TX, USA). “The trouble is that we’ve never understood how this T cell depletion occurs, so we set out to answer this question.”

The team performed both genetic and cellular experiments to determine how this virus results in lymphopenia, discovering that Ebola attaches to and invades

T cells, causing them to become ‘stressed’. This in turn causes the hosts immune system to destroy them, resulting in the low numbers observed in severe cases.

“With this new information, we’re planning to investigate the role of these processes in Ebola-induced white blood cell death, immunosuppression and disease development in general,” commented Bukreyev.

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Source: Younan P, Santos RI, Ramanathan P et al. Ebola virus-mediated T-lymphocyte depletion is the result of an abortive infection. PLoS Pathog. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1008068 (2019); www.utmb.edu/


What is lymphopenia?

Lymphopenia is the condition of having a white blood cell count lower than normal. T cell lymphopenia is the most common, but this condition can affect all white blood cell types.

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