Feeding mice helps them to fight viral infection, whereas starvation is a better strategy against bacterial infection — lending support to the proverb 'feed a cold, starve a fever'.

Ruslan Medzhitov and his colleagues at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, studied the effects of feeding on mice that were infected with either the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes or an influenza virus. Bacterium-infected mice that were deprived of food stayed alive, whereas well-fed animals died. By contrast, almost all mice with flu died when they were starved, but most survived when they were fed. During bacterial inflammation, glucose from food inhibited a metabolic process that protects brain tissue from damage, whereas the sugar protected the brain during viral inflammation.

The findings suggest that different types of inflammatory response have their own metabolic programs.

Cell 166, 1512–1525 (2016)