Cold Symptoms Linked to Immune Response, Not Cold Virus

Currently, there is not a cure for the common cold. When you catch a cold, doctors often advise that you drink a lot of fluids and maybe even have a bowl or two of chicken soup. You could take some cold medication, but these just work to mask the symptoms rather than cure the problem. However, recent research may change the way the common cold is dealt within fact, it may even lead to a cure.

The research, published in the November issue of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, indicates that cold symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose, are not caused by the human rhinovirus (HRV). (HRV is responsible for 30-50 percent of all common cold cases.) Instead, these symptoms result from the immune system response. The study was led by David Proud, a professor in the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Calgary in Canada. In conducting his research, Proud collaborated with scientists at the University of Virginia and Procter & Gamble Company.

In the study, 35 volunteers were injected with either HRV or a harmless substance. Skin scrapings from the inside of each volunteer’s nose were taken both before and after infection. Researchers at Procter & Gamble used gene chip technology to analyze whether any genetic changes took place after infection. Gene chip technology lets scientists see every gene in the human genome–allowing scientists to see how genes respond to a stimulus, such as the introduction of a cold virus.

The researchers did not detect any changes to the test subjects’ DNA after a period of 8 hours. However, after a period of 48 hours, scientists discovered that over 6500 genes had been altered. The affected genes showed either an increased or decreased amount of activity. The genes that were most affected were those that make antiviral proteins and pro-inflammatory chemicals. This finding shows that antiviral proteins work to thwart the rhinovirus, but also produce the symptoms associated with a cold.

Results from this research may help scientists develop an effective cure for the common cold. If they can identify the pro-inflammatory genes, they could develop methods to block the genes’ function. However, researchers are hoping to find more than just a cure for the common cold. The pathogen responsible for the rhinovirus has also been implicated in more serious health conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By learning how to combat the rhinovirus, researchers may also be able to find a way to cure these conditions as well.

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