In a study from Northeastern University, scientists found a new way to prevent the common cold (and maybe COVID-19).
They focused on the crucial question of why people are more vulnerable to catching colds during the months of winter.
The answer hinges on an evolved defense system, innate to the human nose, that is numbed by frigid temperatures.
The findings could lead to treatments drawn from the body’s own defense mechanism.
Sick days lost to common colds reportedly cost the U.S. economy more than $40 billion annually.
In the study, the team focused on an innate response while building on 2018 research that first identified an immune mechanism in the nose and its release of extracellular vesicles—a spray of tiny sacs released from cells—that swarm, bind and kill bacteria at the point of inhalation.
With their latest study, the researchers set out to answer two questions:
Does the innate response in the nose also provide defense against viruses? (Turns out it does.)
Does the temperature of the air diminish the antiviral immune response—thereby helping explain why people become especially susceptible to colds in winter?
The team analyzed nasal samples from volunteers.
The samples were divided and cultured in Amiji’s Northeastern lab at the normal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius as well as at 32 degrees Celsius, which is the plummeting temperature of the nasal pathway when people are outdoors in cold weather.
Under normal body-heat conditions, the researchers found that nasal extracellular vesicles were deployed with success by acting as decoys that directly bind and block viral entry.
In colder temperatures, a sparser net of fewer extracellular vesicles was deployed in tests involving two rhinoviruses and a coronavirus that are typical of the winter flu season.
The study uncovers a very robust mechanism that explains a lot about how we typically fight off viruses.
The team anticipates that the body’s evolved response to pathogens could be tested against a wide variety of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
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The study was conducted by Mansoor Amiji et al and published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
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