Audio Interview

The immune system response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus

Published on March 20, 2020   17 min

Other Talks in the Playlist: Interviews on Covid-19

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Interviewer: Professor Klenerman, thank you for recording this interview with us on the very important topic of how the immune system is fighting this new coronavirus strain called SARS-CoV-2. To start this interview, I'll ask you: how does the immune system fight the usual coronavirus strains, and how is this new strain different? Prof Klenerman: That's a good question and I'll break it down into little bits. The immune system has evolved to fight viruses of any kind, and coronaviruses and influenza and other respiratory viruses are definitely some of the things that have driven our evolved immune system. The first thing that happens when a virus invades a cell is that you get something called an 'innate response' to the virus, and that's triggered by the ability of the body to sense things that are dangerous, things that shouldn't be there. So there are components of the virus, particularly the way it copies itself that lead to structures that are alien to normal cells, and that is very sensitively reacted to by the body so a small amount of virus can trigger a pretty brisk response. That can happen quite quickly and it puts all the cells in the location so, say, the lining of the nose or the upper airways onto some kind of alert, and that has two effects, the first is that the cells themselves can start to generate mechanisms to fight off the virus, and they can do that in a number of ways. Essentially there's a massive response within the cell, particularly driven by a set of small molecules called interferons, which were discovered about 60 years ago now.

The immune system response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus

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