Thursday, 5 March 2020

Why are bat viruses so deadly?

A study of cultured bat cells shows that their strong immune responses, constantly primed to respond to viruses, can drive viruses to greater virulence. Modelling bat immune systems on a computer, the researchers showed that when bat cells quickly release interferon upon infection, other cells quickly wall themselves off. This drives viruses to faster reproduction. The increased virulence and infectivity wreak havoc when these viruses infect animals with tamer immune systems, like humans.

A new University of California, Berkeley, study finds that bats' fierce immune response to viruses could drive viruses to replicate faster, so that when they jump to mammals with average immune systems, such as humans, the viruses wreak deadly havoc.
Some bats -- including those known to be the original source of human infections -- have been shown to host immune systems that are perpetually primed to mount defenses against viruses. Viral infection in these bats leads to a swift response that walls the virus out of cells. While this may protect the bats from getting infected with high viral loads, it encourages these viruses to reproduce more quickly within a host before a defense can be mounted.

This makes bats a unique reservoir of rapidly reproducing and highly transmissible viruses. While the bats can tolerate viruses like these, when these bat viruses then move into animals that lack a fast-response immune system, the viruses quickly overwhelm their new hosts, leading to high fatality rates.


Cara E Brook, Mike Boots, Kartik Chandran, Andrew P Dobson, Christian Drosten, Andrea L Graham, Bryan T Grenfell, Marcel A Müller, Melinda Ng, Lin-Fa Wang, Anieke van Leeuwen. Accelerated viral dynamics in bat cell lines, with implications for zoonotic emergence. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.48401

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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