Faculty friday| 2019-09-27 Répás Réka

E319 and our immune system

This year the flu season came earlier than usual, and the following article is about the connection between infulenzavirus and food additives.

In April the researchers of Michigan State University have presented an interesting founding at ASPET’s (American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics) annual meeting. According to their research a food additive, namely E319 or tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) decreases the immune system’s effectiveness against the influenzavirus.

About the substance

Tert-butylhydroquinone is a type of phenol which is widely used in many products: for example in perfumes as a fixative to lower the evaporation rate and improve stability, but it can be also found in varnishes and lacquers. Though most often it can be found in food products as an antioxidant, mostly used in vegetable oils and animal fats as a preservative. It gives the food flavour and colour as well which is another a positive aspect of TBHQ. It can be found in crisps, frozen goods or in the fries. It is used in small quantities as it is proven to be carcinogenic in mice. If you want to look for TBHQ in the product you buy, just look for E319.

Effect on the immune system

As of now we know that we should not be afraid of each and every additive which start with “E” when looking through the label of our food. Maybe E319 should be an exception in flu season. Mice which were treated with TBHQ were less resistant against the flu. They found that the function of helper and killer T cells were significantly decreased, thus these mice regenerated slower than the control group. It is the job of the helper T cell to coordinate the cells of the immune system when an infection occurs, whereas the killer T cells’ duty is to destroy the targeted cells. Probably E319 enhances the expression of CTLA-4 and IL-10 which are immunosuppressive agents.

Connection with vaccination

Moreover, they also found that the memory of the immune system was worsened by TBHQ as the treated mice had a longer response to reinfection with a similar serotype. It Is an important discovery as vaccines use our immune system’s memory to prevent diseases.