DEC 09, 2017 05:55 AM PST

Severity of Mono Linked to Cross-Reactive T Cell Activity

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects almost everyone by the time they’re 30, but not everyone necessarily shows symptoms of the illness, acute infectious mononucleosis, which many call the “kissing disease.” In a new study from the American Society for Microbiology, researchers uncover details about why some people develop the illness and others don’t.

Epstein-Barr virus.

The fatigue, fever, and sore throat that are characteristic of mono are also usually accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes, swollen spleen, and a swollen liver. Some people even develop a rash. EBV can hide undetected for years of the tonsils, so the person carrying the disease is completely unaware. Someone they exchange saliva with could then unknowingly be infected with the virus and develop the illness, hence the infection’s nickname. Although the connection is not very well understood, having mono is also associated with autoimmune disease, i.e. having infectious mono may raise the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

In the present study, researchers aimed to understand the rationale behind the development of acute infectious mono. Most children and some adults rarely develop symptoms, while others are bedridden for weeks to months. Why? Researchers believe it’s because of cross-reactive memory T cells, potentially with a connection to the flu.

Researchers conducted their study with blood samples collected from college students; 32 were diagnosed with mono, 17 tested positive for EBV but did not develop the infection. Of those with a mono diagnosis, the most severe cases showed a whopping 25 times more T cells that reacted to both EBV and influenza A virus in the blood, compared to controls. People with mild cases of mono had 10 times as many cross-reactive T cells as healthy controls.

"If you have a lot of these flu memory T-cells in your tonsils and you get EBV, instead of silently hanging around, it activates those memory cells," explained study leader Liisa Selin.

The new study suggests that a previous flu infection paired with interaction with the EBV virus could trigger an infection or make the infection more severe, making a person’s history of disease exposure a predictive factor of their risk of developing mono. Flu vaccination could also potentially provide protection from mono, at least a severe form of the illness.

The findings from this study indicate an area of research that needs to be explored further, the identification of memory T cells with receptors that increase the risk of certain diseases and increase the likelihood that those diseases will be particularly severe.

The present study was published in the journal mBio.

Sources: American Society for Microbiology, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog:
You May Also Like
NOV 14, 2019
NOV 14, 2019
In Space, Dormant Viruses Can Reactivate
Some astronauts have lived onboard the International Space Station for hundreds of days. Researchers are learning more about the things that can happen in that time....
NOV 14, 2019
NOV 14, 2019
A Novel Therapeutic Target for a Severe Bacterial Infection
Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa) is an opportunistic human pathogen that can cause severe illness and even death in people that are hospitalized or have weakene...
NOV 14, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 14, 2019
Learning More About the Causes of Endometriosis Pain
Endometriosis can be an extremely painful disorder that significantly impacts quality of life....
NOV 14, 2019
Health & Medicine
NOV 14, 2019
Rare Bone Marrow Manifestation in Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease with the hallmark diagnostic feature being non-caseating granulomas--clumps of immune cells including macr...
NOV 14, 2019
NOV 14, 2019
New Observations of a Cancer Transcriptase
New research shows a transcriptase that helps time cell death varies in expression, and is unusually localized, in cancer cells.  The transcriptase, T...
NOV 14, 2019
NOV 14, 2019
Do You Know Your Measles Immune Status?
Measles outbreaks continue to make news around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update on a weekly basis the number of measles cas...
Loading Comments...