Norovirus can play protective role in mice

Infection can help intestines develop, strengthen immune system

Even a nasty “stomach bug” may have a good side.

Noroviruses are best known for the diarrhea and vomiting they produce in people. But a mouse norovirus can do the work of friendly gut bacteria to protect the intestines and boost the immune systems of mice, researchers from New York University School of Medicine report November 19 in Nature. The findings add to other studies suggesting that some of the many viruses infecting people and animals can help, not hurt (SN: 1/11/14, p. 18).

Previous research has shown that in mice raised without any gut microbes, the intestines don’t develop properly and the immune system is frail. A two-week course of antibiotics that kills gut bacteria can also weaken the immune system and lead to thin intestinal lining, the researchers found. Several different strains of norovirus could reverse those problems.

Norovirus also helped fight a disease-causing bacterium called Citrobacter rodentium

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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