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Immune system suppression in Egyptian fruit bats leads to increased Marburg virus replication and greater potential for spillover events – publication in Nature Communications

Fruit bats in a cave. Source: © Bobbie Rae Erickson, VSPB/CDC

Egyptian fruit bats are the known reservoir of the deadly Marburg virus. However, it is unknown how these bats handle Marburg virus infection without developing disease, unlike humans. Now, an international research team led by Robert Koch Institute and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown for the first time that a specific inflammatory immune response is required to control Marburg virus in Egyptian fruit bats. The work has been published in the journal Nature communications ("Coordinated inflammatory responses dictate Marburg virus control by reservoir bats",

The researchers used the drug Dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat inflammation in humans, to suppress the immune system of the bats during Marburg virus infection. They showed that the shut-down of the adaptive (specific) inflammatory response in the bats allows Marburg virus to replicate out of control and cause disease in the bats, resulting in increased oral and rectal viral shedding and heightened transmission potential of the virus. This is not only important for understanding how the natural reservoir bat of Marburg virus handles infection without disease, but also has crucial implications for transmission and ecology of Marburg virus: bat stressors, such as seasonal nutrition and food scarcity, disease or pregnancy, which can suppress the immune system of the animals, can potentially lead to increased Marburg virus replication and spillover events to humans.

Date: 29.02.2024