Why does preterm birth increase the severity of respiratory viral infections in children?
Michael O'Reilly, Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine has received a $2 million grant to investigate how early exposure to oxygen changes how the lung responds to influenza A virus later in life. The grant continues a line of research that began 12 years ago when his own son Thomas was born preterm.
A growing body of evidence suggests exposure to environmental pollutants during critical stages of fetal and postnatal lung development can permanently change health of the lung later in life. The transition to air at birth is one of the most profound environmental changes that the developing lung will ever experience. While the newborn lung is prepared to breathe oxygen, the preterm lung transitions too soon. This aberrant exposure to oxygen at birth can increase the severity of viral infections through poorly understood mechanisms.
Using a novel mouse model, Dr. O'Reilly and his colleagues discovered high levels of oxygen at birth increases the severity of influenza A virus infection by depleting epithelial stem cells needed to repair the infected lung. The goal of the new grant is to figure how oxygen depleted these cells with the hope that such knowledge will increase our ability to prevent or treat lung disease in people born preterm.
Additional collaborators on this project include B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D., Andrew McDavid, Ph.D., and Martha Susiarjo, Ph.D.