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Molecule in lungs, POPG, shows promise for fighting flu

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A naturally occurring lung molecule, POPG could be developed for flu protection.

A naturally occurring lipid in the fluid that lines the lungs is found by researchers to fight flu and other respiratory infections in lab cultures and in mice. Scientists say the finding could mean new flu prevention and new treatment for existing lung disease and respiratory infection.

The lipid, known as POPG (palmitoyl-oleoyl-phosphatidylglycelrol), has the potential to provide an inexpensive and safe way to protect from various strains of influenza.

According to National Jewish Health researcher Dennis Voelker, PhD, there are lipids and proteins in the fluid of the lungs that are being studied.

POPG, previously found to be effective for fighting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and shows promise for a treating other inflammatory lung diseases.

Voelker says POPG has “remarkable” properties for reducing inflammation. Because of the unique antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties Voelker say he believes the lipid could also be developed to treat asthma and COPD.

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In mouse studies, Voelker and his team discovered POPG prevents infection and inhibits viral replication of two forms of influenza - H1N1-PR8 and H3N2.

The molecule works by binding to viral particles and preventing attachment and infection of cells. The authors say that means it works best to prevent infection, but it also has the ability to stop infection from spreading to healthy cells.

One of the challenges is keeping blood levels of POPG high enough in mice because of their high metabolism, but Voelker says his team is working on a dosing scheme.

Numata says, “Lipids such as POPG, offer potential advantages over antiviral proteins, because they are less likely to elicit unwanted immune responses, are more chemically stable and less expensive to manufacture than proteins.”

POPG, a naturally occurring lung molecule, has the potential to offer new, inexpensive and safe treatment for flu prevention and treatment. Supplementing with the lipid could also provide a novel treatment for asthma and COPD. The study is published in the journal Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons
Image: H1N1 flu virus