Deadly monkeypox virus might cause disease by breaking down lung tissue

A new study of an exotic, infectious virus that has caused three recent outbreaks in the United States reveals clues to how the virus might damage lungs during infection. The findings also suggest possible new ways to treat lung diseases in humans.

Not only does the infection from monkeypox virus increase production of proteins involved in inflammation, but it decreases production of proteins that keep lung tissue intact and lubricated. The findings appear in an upcoming issue of Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

"Going into this study, we thought monkeypox caused disease primarily by inducing inflammation in the lung, and that leads to pneumonia," said lead author Joseph Brown, a systems biologist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "We were surprised to see how badly the virus wrecked the structural integrity of the lungs."

The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Center for Research Resources, both part of the National Institutes of Health; the Department of Defense; and Battelle.

Collaborating with virologist Scott Wong, Ryan Estep and others at the Oregon Health & Science University's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Beaverton, Ore., Brown and the PNNL team examined how the virus affected the collection of proteins found in lung fluid from macaque monkeys at OHSU. The monkeys were part of an ongoing study of monkeypox infection at OHSU's Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton.

Monkeypox and smallpox are closely related viruses that cause contagious pustules in humans, though monkeypox is less dangerous. However, monkeypox is as bad for monkeys as smallpox is for people, making it a good model for human smallpox disease. The study helps researchers better understand both monkeypox and smallpox infection.