About 500,000 people in Germany suffer from dilatative cardiomyopathy (DCM). Viral infections are the major cause of this myocardial disease. Its molecular and cellular mechanisms are being investigated in a transregional SFB project at the University of Tübingen.
An important aspect is the transition from acute to chronic viral myocarditis which eventually leads to DCM. This transition is well described for coxsackie virus infections. The virus directly attacks the myocardial cells. In the mouse model, the animals develop acute myocarditis six to seven days after initial virus contact. If the immune system is able to control the infection, complete cure can be expected within a few weeks. However, occasionally, the virus persists and cannot be removed from the organism which means that the acute myocarditis becomes chronic. “This also happens in humans. We are now trying to find out why the immune system sometimes succeeds in eradicating the virus and sometimes does not,” said Klingel. The researchers assume that an inefficient immune control is the cause of the inability to protect the body against such viruses.
The more the scientists know about the immunological factors involved in host-virus interactions, the easier it is to develop new therapeutic concepts. These might include therapies involving substances that block or enhance a certain step of the immune response. Another option might be the intervention in certain regulatory mechanisms. One thing is sure: It will not be easy.“There are no diagnosis or therapy guidelines because the event is extremely interlinked and multifunctional. Targeting one point might have many effects and it is not known what and where something will happen,” said Kingel. She and her colleagues hope that the next SFB work package will help them get a big step closer to identifying the overall context.