With funding from a five-year, $2.3M NIH grant, researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine are studying how cytomegalovirus (CMV) may impact immune system function as we age.
Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, M.D. Ph.D., Chair of the University of Arizona Department of Immunobiology, believes that CMV may cause long-lasting defects in how the immune system responds to infection. In his research, Dr. Nikolich-Žugich describes the immune system as “highly integrated”. He believes that small dysregulations in signaling and cell to cell communication could translate into major deficiencies in overall immune response. The defects may weaken our ability to defend against common viruses, like the flu, as we grow old.
Commenting on a study published by his team this September in the The Journal of Immunology, Dr. Nikolich-Žugich noted that, “Our research group recently showed that infection with only CMV, and no other acute or persistent viruses, causes defects in immune responsiveness to other infections and causes alterations in the naïve T cell receptor repertoire and impaired effector T cell responses.”
T cells are a type of white blood cell that play a key role in adaptive immunity, the system that regulates the body’s response to pathogens. The NIH-sponsored research will seek to elucidate the mechanism by which CMV affects naïve T cell responses, as well as the impact persistent CMV infection has on our immune system. In the U.S., 50 to 80 percent of adults are infected with CMV by the time they are 40 years old.