WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Dec. 21, 2009 -- A fatty substance found naturally in the
lungs may provide a natural defense against respiratory syncytial virus
New research suggests the substance, a lipid known as POPG, may prevent RSV
infection as well as limit the spread of the virus once infection has
"Our findings demonstrate that POPG is a potent antiviral agent both as
a prophylactic and after infection has occurred," researcher Dennis Voelker,
PhD, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, says in a news
release. "While these are still early studies, several characteristics of POPG
make me believe that it has real potential as both an antiviral and
RSV is the major cause of hospitalization in young children under age 2 and
is an increasingly problematic infection in adults with chronic
lung disease, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. There is
no vaccine or easy, effective treatment for RSV.
POPGis one of several lipids found in the fluid that lines the air sacs of
the lungs. Researchers say that until now, the function of POPG has been
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, researchers examined the effects of POPG on RSV infection in
human lung cells in the lab and in mice infected with the virus.
They found that inoculating human lung cells with POPG before exposure to
RSV prevented infection with the virus as well as the cell death and
inflammation normally associated with RSV infection. Applying POPG to the cells
after RSV infection also inhibited the spread of the virus to neighboring
In addition, the study showed treating infected mice with POPG dramatically
reduced infection and prevented the spread of the inflammatory cells into the
Researchers say POPG appears to work by binding to RSV and preventing it
from binding to other cells. The findings also suggest that POPG’s role in the
lungs may be to help the lungs tolerate the daily barrage of inhaled
POPG is already used in other treatments and has been safely given to
millions of premature infants to protect their lungs. It is also inexpensive
and easy to use.
Therefore, together with the results of this study, researchers say the
compound merits further research as a treatment for RSV infection in
SOURCES:Numata, M. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec. 21,
2009, online early edition.News release, National Jewish Health.News release, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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