Researchers always thought that the body's first response to invading bacteria or viruses was through the formation of a substance called interferon. Until now, that is.

Now researchers know that that even before the production of interferon, the immune system responds to infection when the body's mucus membranes are disrupted, according to study from researchers at Aarhus University. This disruption causes the production of substance that neutralizes any foreign invaders, keeping us from getting sick.'

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Using mice, the study showed that normal mice exposed to the herpes virus remained healthy, while mice lacking this first defense mechanism because ill. "We infected wildtype and a panel of gene-modified mice with herpesvirus, and examined for early immune reactions that were activated prior to the classical interferon response, which until this study was believed to represent the fist line of defense. When we had established the existence of this early immune reaction, we started to identify key components on the virus and the mucosal surfaces that were involved," Søren Riis Paludan, professor at the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, told ALN exclusively.

The research, published in the journal Nature Immunology, contradicts how researchers and doctors previously understood the immune system. "The main finding is that we have identified an immune reaction that is activated as the microbe disturbed the mucus layer at mucosal surfaces. This is an immune reaction occuring earlier than what has been thought previously, and may represent a mechanism that enables the organism to fight most microbes that we meet without mounting strong immune responses. This is important, since strong immune reactions - in addition to contributing to elimination of microbes - also have negative effects such as fever, etc.," Riis Paludan added.

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This discovery could help keep patients that get sick frequently stay healthy. "At this stage our new finding represents new basic knowledge. If future research shows that this is important for defense against common human pathogens, clinicians could screen patients with severe and frequent infections for genetic defects in the components involved in this early host defense mechanism," Riis Paludan concluded.