A team from the University of Edinburgh found that hormone signals sent in response to viral infections led to cholesterol levels being lowered.
Professor Peter Ghazal and his team used mouse bone marrow cells to study the interaction between cholesterol levels and immune responses. They found infection with cytomegalovirus and other viruses raised interferon levels, which in turn cut levels of enzymes involved in the production of cholesterol.
Professor Ghazal and his colleagues said that targeting metabolic pathways linked to innate immunity could be a useful approach for tackling viral infections. For instance, it may be possible to use cholesterol-lowering drugs to boost immune system function, they said.
The researchers said their study provided the first example of targeting a host metabolic pathway in order to protect against an acute infection.
Commenting on the implications of the finding, Professor Ghazal said: 'What we have discovered is that a key immune hormone stimulated upon infection can lower cholesterol levels and thereby deprive viral infections of the sustenance they need to grow.
'Drugs currently exist to lower cholesterol levels, but the next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems,' he added.