Bats are remarkably able to tolerate viruses, including the strain of virus that causes the coronavirus.
What are the secrets to their virus resistance? According to University of Rochester research, it could be related to bats being able to control inflammation in their bodies.
Viruses, including COVID-19, are one factor that can trigger inflammation. Unlike humans, bats have developed specific mechanisms that reduce viral replication and also dampen the immune response to a virus. The result is a beneficial balance: their immune systems control viruses but at the same time, do not mount a strong inflammatory response.
“With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that is killing the patient, more so than the virus itself,” says Vera Gorbunova, a biology professor at the University of Rochester. “The human immune system works like that: once we get infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight infection, but it can also be a detrimental response as our bodies overreact to the threat.”
The researchers anticipate that studying bats’ immune systems will provide new targets for human therapies to fight diseases.