New research points to a key driver--and drug target--behind hepatitis infections

While studying the effects and causes of hepatitis C infection of the liver, a group of scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark say they discovered a key driver of the disease that could prove particularly effective in helping patients with hard-to-treat cases.

According to the investigators, the interferon lambda 4 protein (IFNL4) plays a big role in determining the likely efficacy of treatment for hepatitis A, which was formerly called infectious hepatitis. IFNL4 is a player in the human immune system, which should make it a key part of the defense system arrayed against infection. But the scientists say that when it's activity is inhibited, therapy has a better shot at success.

So why the counterintuitive role for IFNL4? The researchers speculate that its activity could be "confusing" the immune system, leaving the body more vulnerable to infection. And genetics is currently responsible for determining whether IFNL4 is inhibited or not.

"Our research shows that genetic mutations that reduce the activity of the interferon lambda 4 protein provide patients with a considerably better chance of recovering from the infection. Or to put it another way, a functional interferon lambda 4 protein is harmful during an infection with HCV. This is paradoxical because IFNL4 is an essential part of our immune defense against viral infections, and should therefore have a positive effect," says Associate Professor Rune Hartmann of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the investigators say that their work could point the way to new hepatitis drugs, or help guide the use of existing therapies. Either way, they add, more work needs to be done.

- here's the release

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