07/15 News Flash 3: How Bats Live Longer and Tolerate Viruses

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Artwork by Sophia Zhao.

In addition to their longevity, bats seem to be able to host deadly diseases such as Ebola, rabies and most recently SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.Their unique immune response may be the reason why they can carry such diseases without effects. Bats express interferons (IFN) in more types of tissues. Interferons are a type of antiviral cytokines, which help activate genes to inhibit viral replication. While this type of expression would result in inflammation in other mammals, bats have a dampened activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome to counteract the effect of IFNs. 

Bats also exhibit a dampened cGAS-STING pathway, a signaling pathway that activates inflammatory responses. Mitigating inflammation responses may also provide insight to why bats live 2.6 times longer than similarly sized mammals. These findings provide insight into treatments for age related diseases including neurodegeneration, cancer and arthritis. 

Thus, even though bats harbor deadly diseases, they also provide insight to combating viruses and aging. Current studies are already focusing on categories of small molecules in bats linked to aging.