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Powerful Protein Promotes Flu Resistance Through Rest

Jan 14, 2015 04:32 PM EST

Doctors have long known that when dealing with the flu, getting plenty of rest is very important. This, of course, is because your body's immune system needs a lot of energy to wage its helpful war. However, the discovery of a new type of protein in the brains of mice has revealed that there may be a bit more to it than that.

According to a study recently published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the brain protein AcPb appears to boost the healing power of sleep to help speed along its recovery from an influenza infection.

Researcher James Kruger, a sleep researcher at Washington State University at Spokane, recently led a team in assessing sleep responses triggered by the influenza virus in mice. They quickly identified that AcPb sees increased activity alongside an immune system signaling chemical called interleukin-1. The protein reportedly links up with interleukin-1 to help regulate sleep in healthy animals and also prompts infected animals to spend more time sleeping during an illness.

Interestingly, they also found that mice who lack the gene for AcPb production wound up sleeping less after being infected with a controlled H1N1 virus strain. While an AcPb toting group of infected mice were found to fight off the infection easily enough, the gene-lacking group grew increasingly sluggish and cold. Kruger found that these mice had lost their normal circadian rhythm - a healthy pattern of when one grows tired and when they're awake - and eventually died at much higher rates than the normal nice.

"Influenza is a lung disease," Kruger said in a statement, "and deaths probably occur from fluid building up in the lungs. But now, we see that without AcPb in the brain, the virus is even more deadly. Why would the brain be regulating a lung disease?"

"We knew that the virus replicated in the lungs," he explained, "but we've discovered it also reaches parts of the brain - causing an inflammatory reaction involving interleukin-1 and AcPb. That reaction induces the increased sleep response that helps the body overcome an infection."

In that sense, the virus actually is unintentionally working against itself, thanks to its reaction with the AcPb protein.

The researcher added that while this reaction currently only helps a flu victim sleep, it could also lead to alternative treatment options to boost the AcPb function even more, helping sick people maintain restful and restorative sleep for longer through natural means.

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