Ibuprofen Demonstrates Immune Benefits Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus


Ibuprofen could potentially play a role in providing lasting immunity to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in older adults, according to research published in Virology. The virus is often associated with infants and young children, but it is also a dangerous wintertime infection for the elderly.

The study used an animal model to study the response of geriatric cotton rats given ibuprofen for a week prior to initial RSV infection. According to the investigators, the rats that received the drug cleared the virus more quickly than those that didn’t receive ibuprofen.

Further, the rats were completely protected against reinfection a month later. Younger animals received no benefit from the ibuprofen and cleared the virus effectively, mounting an immune response to re-infection a month later regardless of whether the drug was used.

Analysis of the study identified a specific type of immune cell, called CD8+ T cells, that worked to remove infected cells. When CD8+ T cells were artificially depleted, the benefits of ibuprofen were lost, suggesting that the ibuprofen had a restorative effect on these cells, according to the study. Previous research has suggested that inflammation-related molecules result in slowed immune reactivity in other immune cells responsible for stimulating T cell production, resulting in sluggish immune responses.

“If you take those inflammatory molecules away with ibuprofen, these immune cells would migrate normally and we’d have stimulated CD8+ T cells,” said Stefan Niewiesk, DVM, PhD, in a press release “That’s the idea, but we still haven’t confirmed the mechanism. We’re also asking what part of the inflammatory cascade does ibuprofen affect? How does inflammation look in these old animals—is it always there and then increased with infection? That’s where we’re looking at the moment.”

The investigators said these findings suggest that immune responses are improved by lowering age-related inflammation. However, they stress that it is too early to consider using ibuprofen as a preventative measure against RSV, and extended use of ibuprofen can damage the kidneys and gastric lining.

“For a long time, people have thought that certain immune cells get burned out and can’t function properly any longer,” Niewiesk said. ”And then we started treating against inflammation, and suddenly the old cells can do their job like young cells.”

According to the investigators, RSV causes an estimated 14,000 deaths and 177,000 hospitalizations annually among US adults over 65 years of age, and initial infection does not result in a long-term immune response to the virus.


A potential role for ibuprofen in older adults’ immunity to RSV [news release]. EurekAlert; November 9, 2021. Accessed November 10, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/934285

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