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Finding ways to fight the flu just got a tad more ribbeting — that is, if you ask some researchers who have turned their attention to frogs.
A new study suggests that mucus from the skin of certain frogs can be harnessed to obliterate flu viruses.
Some frog mucus contains antimicrobial peptides, which are immune system molecules that can neutralize bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
However, the flu-killing power of such peptides has been demonstrated only under a microscope and in lab mice. More research is needed to determine just how effective a peptide can be in helping humans beat the flu.
“We have identified a potentially new treatment for H1N1 human influenza virus, which is a peptide that comes from the skin of a frog from southern India,” said Joshy Jacob, an associate professor in the Emory University School of Medicine’s microbiology and immunology department, who led the study.
The peptide, named urumin, specifically targets H1 flu viruses, according to the study, published Tuesday inthe journal Immunity.
“This peptide works by directly killing the virus, and it is specific for all influenza viruses that have a H1 type of hemagglutinin,” Jacob said.
Hemagglutinin is a spike-shaped protein found on the surface of flu viruses. For the viruses to make you sick, the spikes of hemagglutinin attach to your cells to infect them.
‘It makes the virus particle fall apart’
For the study, skin secretions were collected from 15 frogs, of the species Hydrophylax bahuvistara, which are about the size of a tennis ball and brightly colored. Peptides were then gathered from their secretions.
The researchers observed how the peptides interacted with influenza viruses under a microscope and in mice.
“In this paper we screened 32 peptides, and the surprise was that four out of 32 had activity against the virus,” Jacob said.
“Out of the four, we found one of them (urumin) was non-toxic to human cells,” he said. “So, we tested it against viruses that came from the 1930s until the current ones, and it kills all of the H1s. It doesn’t touch H3. It’s very, very specific.”
The researchers aren’t quite sure why urumin only targets H1 viruses, but Jacob said that H1 viruses might be anatomically similar to an amphibian pathogen that the frog mucus is intended to destroy. If there is a similarity, it may explain why H1 viruses are vulnerable to urumin’s wrath.
“The frog makes this peptide for its own survival. It never gets influenza,” Jacob said, adding that the peptide fights the flu virus by destroying an important part of the hemagglutinin.
To explain how the peptide works, Jacob likened hemagglutinin to a billboard sign.
“You have the message and then you have the little stem that holds it up. The message can change but the stem is the same, and this peptide targets the stem of the hemagglutinin, that’s why it’s very efficient,” he said.