Selenium and Viral Infections

Antioxidants and Viral Infections: Host Immune Response and Viral Pathogenicity

Melinda A. Beck, PhD

Departments of Pediatrics and Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina []

Malnutrition has long been associated with increased susceptibility to infectious disease. The increase in severity from and susceptibility to infectious disease in malnourished hosts is thought to be the result of an impaired immune response. For example, malnutrition could influence the immune response by inducing a less effective ability to manage the challenge of an infectious disease. Work in our laboratory has demonstrated that not only is the host affected by the nutritional deficiency, but the invading pathogen is as well. Using a deficiency in selenium (Se) as a model system, mice deficient in Se were more susceptible to infection with coxsackievirus, as well as with influenza virus. Se-deficient mice develop myocarditis when infected with a normally benign strain of coxsackievirus. They also develop severe pneumonitis when infected with a mild strain of influenza virus. The immune system was altered in the Se-deficient animals, as was the viral pathogen itself. Sequencing of viral isolates recovered from Se-deficient mice demonstrated mutations in the viral genome of both coxsackievirus and influenza virus. These changes in the viral genome are associated with the increased pathogenesis of the virus. The antioxidant selenoenzyme, glutathione peroxidase-1, was found to be critically important, as glutathione peroxidase knockout mice developed myocarditis, similar to the Se-deficient mice, when infected with the benign strain of myocarditis. This work points to the importance of host nutrition in not only optimizing the host immune response, but also in preventing viral mutations which could increase the viral pathogenicity.

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