As we find out that Tamiflu is no more effective than paracetamol or ibuprofen in treating influenza infection (NHS Choices: Effectiveness of Tamiflu and Relenza questioned) – giving Ben Goldacre the right to say I told you so – maybe there is some reason to be more optimistic about treating influenza.
A new paper in Immunity [subscription] shows that prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) is upregulated during influenza A virus infection, and this inhibits macrophage recruitment to the lungs as well as interferon production and apoptosis in influenza virus-infected macrophages. This results in impaired macrophage antigen presentation and reduced adaptive immunity against influenza virus. The good news is that suppression of PGE2 with prostaglandin inhibitors protects against influenza infection. And we’ve got lots of prostaglandin inhibitors, including ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that work by inhibiting a molecule called cyclooxygenase (COX). The lung innate immune system has a critical role in limiting respiratory viral infections, particularly in the case of the nastier strains of flu such as the 1918 Spanish Influenza virus (and those still to come). So this is potentially very good news.
The catch? Well this paper refers to studies in mice and clinical trials will need to be done in humans to show the same effects. Clinical trials will be easy to do as many COX- and PGE-inhibitors are already approved for human use. All we need to do is avoid Roche doing the trial, or we may never find out the results.
Targeted Prostaglandin E2 Inhibition Enhances Antiviral Immunity through Induction of Type I Interferon and Apoptosis in Macrophages. Immunity, 10 April 2014 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2014.02.013
Summary: Aspirin gained tremendous popularity during the 1918 Spanish Influenza virus pandemic, 50 years prior to the demonstration of their inhibitory action on prostaglandins. Here, we show that during influenza A virus (IAV) infection, prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) was upregulated, which led to the inhibition of type I interferon (IFN) production and apoptosis in macrophages, thereby causing an increase in virus replication. This inhibitory role of PGE2 was not limited to innate immunity, because both antigen presentation and T cell mediated immunity were also suppressed. Targeted PGE2 suppression via genetic ablation of microsomal prostaglandin E-synthase 1 (mPGES-1) or by the pharmacological inhibition of PGE2 receptors EP2 and EP4 substantially improved survival against lethal IAV infection whereas PGE2 administration reversed this phenotype. These data demonstrate that the mPGES-1-PGE2 pathway is targeted by IAV to evade host type I IFN-dependent antiviral immunity. We propose that specific inhibition of PGE2 signaling might serve as a treatment for IAV.
[Editorial comment: I can just imaging the authors and journal editors doing the happy dance that this paper came out on the same day as the Tamiflu news.]