Researchers have discovered that the antiviral interferon-lambda can tighten the blood-brain barrier, protecting the brain from invading viruses. Findings from the study are published in Science Translational Medicine.

Interferon-lambda is produced by the body in response to infection. However, new data proposes that larger amounts of this compound can even protect against defective immune cells that attack the brain and cause conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

A team from the Washington University School of Medicine initially studied West Nile virus infections in mice to better understand how viruses cross the blood-brain barrier. In the study, they found that mice without the interferon-lambda receptor had more levels of West Nile virus in the brain compared to normal mice. The blood-brain barrier was more permeable to the virus in the mice lacking the interferon-lambda barrier; loss of the receptor suggests a loosened barrier. Normal mice were then given the West Nile virus along with interferon-lambda at the start of infection, and two and four days later. Survival rates were >40% after treatment with interferon-lambda.

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Researchers added that treatment with interferon-lambda may result in less side effects since it has significantly fewer receptors in the body. This antiviral may also play a role in affecting other barriers in the body, including the skin and gut.

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