Research Briefs

NIAID: Priming with DNA Vaccine Makes Avian Flu Vaccine Work Better

The immune response to an H5N1 avian influenza vaccine was greatly enhanced in healthy adults if they were first primed with a DNA vaccine expressing a gene for a key H5N1 protein, according to a NIAID study that described results from two clinical studies. Most study volunteers who received the DNA vaccine 24 weeks before receiving a booster vaccine made from whole, inactivated H5N1 virus produced high concentrations of antibodies thought to be protective against the globular head region of the protein hemagglutinin (HA).

Traditional seasonal influenza vaccines are designed to elicit antibodies to the head region of HA, but it changes each year and so vaccines must be repeated annually to maintain immunity. In some volunteers, the prime-boost vaccine regimen also spurred production of broadly neutralizing antibodies aimed at the HA stem, a region that is relatively constant across many strains of influenza viruses. (NIAID authors: J.E. Ledgerwood, C. Wei, Z. Hu, I.J. Gordon, M.E. Enama, C.S. Hendel, P.M. McTamney, H.M. Yassine, J.C. Boyington, R. Bailer, T.M. Tumpey, R.A. Koup, J.R. Mascola, G.J. Nabel, B.S. Graham, VRC 306 Study Team; Lancet Infect Dis DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(11)70240-7)

NHGRI, CC, NINDS: Undiagnosed Diseases Program is Clinic of Last Resort

After its first two years of work, NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) is citing successes in patients whose cases have stumped specialists at leading medical institutions around the country. UDP diagnosed siblings whose calcium-riddled blood vessels made it excruciatingly painful to walk, a woman with life-threatening protein deposits in her muscles, and a 20-year-old whose diagnosis makes him the oldest survivor of his previously undiagnosed muscle and lung disorder. The report focuses on 160 patients of the total 326 cases accepted into the program. More than half of the accepted patients had undiagnosed neurological problems. Other prominent disorder categories include gastrointestinal disease; fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome; immune-mediated and rheumatic illnesses; psychiatric conditions; pain; dermatologic disorders; and cardiovascular disease. (NIH authors: W.A. Gahl, T.C. Markello, C. Toro, K. Fuentes Fajardo, M. Sincan, F. Gill, H. Carlson-Donohoe, A. Gropman, T.M. Pierson, G. Golas, L. Wolfe, C. Groden, R. Godfrey, M. Nehrebecky, C. Wahl, D.M.D. Landis, S. Yang, A. Madeo, J.C. Mullikin, C.F. Boerkoel, C.J. Tifft, D. Adams; Genet Med DOI: 10.1097/GIM.0b013e318232a005)

NIEHS: Can Exercise Prevent Brain Damage Caused by Alzheimer Disease?

Exercise allows the brain to rapidly produce chemicals that prevent damaging inflammation and could help develop a therapeutic approach for early intervention in preventing damage to the brain, according to NIEHS researchers. Their study showed that mice that exercised regularly prior to exposure to a chemical that destroys the hippocampus—the part of the brain that controls learning and memory—produced interleukin-6, which seemed to protect the hippocampus from inflammation and damage. This research may provide clues as to how exercise could be used to affect the path of human neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. (NIEHS authors: J.A. Funk, A.D. Kraft, C.A. McPherson, J.B. Collins, J. Harry; Brain Behav Immun 25:1063–1077, 2011)

NIAAA: Doctors Miss Many Alcohol-Screening Opportunities

 In the United States, excessive alcohol use is the third leading preventable cause of death and also a significant cause of disability, yet physicians often fail to counsel their young adult patients about excessive alcohol use. In a recent study, NIAAA and colleagues at Boston University School of Public Health and Boston Medical Center conducted a random survey of more than 4,000 people between the ages of 18 and 39 and asked them about their drinking habits and whether they had been seen by a doctor during the past year.

Of respondents whose drinking exceeded NIAAA guidelines, only 49 percent recalled being asked about their drinking, and only 14 percent were counseled about it. Young adults between ages 18 and 25 were the most likely to report drinking in excess of NIAAA guidelines, and only 34 percent of them were asked about drinking by their doctors compared with 54 percent of adults ages 26 to 39. (NIAAA author: R.W. Hingson; J Gen Intern Med DOI: 10.1007/s11606-011-1851-1)

NICHD: Anti-HIV Drug Blocks Herpes Virus

The anti-HIV drug tenofovir may be an anti-herpes drug, too, according to researchers at NICHD and other institutions. The drug stops the spread of the genital herpes virus by disabling a key DNA enzyme of the herpes virus. The findings explain the results of a recent clinical trial ( showing that tenofovir, when it is formulated as a vaginal gel, could reduce the risk of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections—as well as HIV infections—in women. Tenofovir taken orally inhibits reproduction of HIV, but had not been known to block the genital herpes virus. The researchers examined cells infected with HSV and found that high concentrations of tenofovir prevent the ability of this virus to reproduce. The vaginal gel has higher concentrations of tenofovir than the oral form does. (NICHD authors: A. Lisco, C. Vanpouille, A. Introini, L. Margolis; Cell Host Microbe 10:379–389, 2011)