Investigation of the control room of coronaviruses

Investigation of the control room of coronaviruses

Coronaviruses use infected cells to replicate themselves and make new virus particles

Coronaviruses hijack parts of our cells and turn them into a control room in which they multiply. This fortress also protects the virus against defense reactions of our body. With an Open Competition grant from science financier NWO, researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) will take a closer look at this viral control room. In order to eventually arrive at new strategies to attack this fortress and prevent disease.

“Coronaviruses use infected cells to multiply themselves and make new virus particles,” says Montse Bárcena, researcher at the Department of Cell and Chemical Biology. To copy their genome, coronaviruses hijack membranes in our cells and build special compartments with them. These sealed chambers for virus replication also serve as a shelter from the cell’s defense mechanisms, making it easier for the virus to spread. Bárcena and colleagues will use an Open Competition grant of 700,000 euros to find out exactly how this shelter came about and works.

A way out
The researchers recently discovered a special opening in the membrane envelope of the coronavirus control room. “This transports the viral genome from its hiding place to another part of the cell, where it is packaged into new virus particles,” explains Bárcena. Then the new virus particles leave the cell to infect other cells, after which the whole process starts all over again. “We now want to understand how this passageway is constructed and how it works exactly,” says Eric Snijder, professor of Molecular Virology. “These insights will hopefully lead to new strategies to attack these types of virus hiding places and thus prevent virus replication and disease.”

New treatments
Bárcena and Snijder use various advanced techniques, including biochemical studies and cryo-electron microscopy, which make the smallest parts of a cell visible. “This takes our knowledge of coronavirus replication to the next level, crucial for developing new antiviral treatments,” says Bárcena.

Source: LUMC

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