A new study, published in PLOS Pathogens, explains how the Ebola virus can creep into the body and cause the devastating damage that characterizes this infection. In the study, the researchers describe how the virus disables T cells, the primary cells of the immune system.
Ebola is one of the most devastating infectious diseases with regard to mortality rates. The strength that characterizes it is inherent in the virus itself that is able to disarm the immune system very quickly, blocking any response from the body to counteract the action of the virus. As Alex Bukreyev, a virologist from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and one of the authors of the study, explains, those who manage to survive Ebola infection are those who manage to maintain stable levels of T cells during infection.
Almost all those who fail to keep these levels stable or who are not characterized by strong decreases in T-cell levels usually die. The researchers found that the Ebola virus, once it entered the T cells, stressed the latter to the point of causing its destruction.
Ebola virus contributes to the so-called lymphopenia, a condition that occurs when the number of T cells in the bloodstream is lower than normal. The severity level of lymphopenia is parallel to that of Ebola disease.
“With this new information, we are planning to study the role of these processes in white blood cell death, immunosuppression and disease development induced by ebola in general,” explains Bukreyev himself.