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Unravel the mystery that makes viruses contagious



Unravel the mystery that makes viruses contagious

Capsid protein pentamers (color-coded subunits) that accumulate toward the growing protein shell (brown) during virion assembly by forming sequence-specific contacts between the genome (packaging signals are shown as orange patterns filled with space) and Enterovirus-E capsid. Credit: University of Leeds

Researchers have for the first time identified how viruses such as poliovirus and the common cold virus “package”

; their genetic code, allowing them to infect cells.


The findings published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens by a team from the universities of Leeds and York, open the possibility of developing drugs or antivirals to stop such infections.

Once a cell is infected, the virus must spread its genetic material to other cells. This is a complex process involving the creation of so-called virions – newly formed infectious copies of the virus. Each virion is a protein coat containing a complete copy of the genetic code of the virus. Virions can then infect other cells and cause disease.

What has been a mystery so far is a detailed understanding of how the virus collects these daughter virions.

Professor Peter Stockley, a former director of the Leicester Center for Structural Molecular Biology in Astbury, who partly led the study with Professor Raydon Twarock of York, said: . If we manage to disrupt the mechanism of virion formation, then there is the potential to stop the infection in its wake. “

“Our analysis suggests that the molecular characteristics that control the virion formation process are genetically preserved, meaning they do not mutate easily – reducing the risk that the virus may change and render all new drugs ineffective.”

Research in Leeds and York brings together experts in the molecular structure of viruses, electron microscopy and mathematical biology.

The study focuses on a harmless bovine virus that is non-infectious in humans, Enterovirus-E, which is a universally accepted substitute for poliovirus. Poliovirus is a dangerous virus that infects humans, causing polio, and is the subject of an initiative to eradicate viruses from the World Health Organization.

The enterovirus group also includes human rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.

The study, published today, describes in detail the role of so-called RNA packaging signals, short regions of the RNA molecule that, together with proteins from the envelope of the virus, provide accurate and efficient formation of an infectious virion.

Using a combination of molecular and mathematical biology, the researchers were able to identify possible sites on the RNA molecule that could act as packaging signals. Using advanced electron microscopes at the Biostructure Laboratory in Astbury at the University of Leeds, the scientists were able to directly visualize this process – for the first time this is possible with any virus of this type.

Professor Twarock added: “Understanding in detail how this process works and the fact that it appears to be preserved throughout the viral pathogen family will allow the pharmaceutical industry to develop antiviral agents that can block these key interactions and prevent disease.”


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More information:
Rebecca Chandler-Bostock et al., The collection of infectious enteroviruses depends on multiple preserved genomic RNA protein contacts, PLOS Pathogens (2020). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.ppat.1009146

Provided by the University of Leeds

Quote: Unraveling the mystery that makes viruses contagious (2021, January 9) downloaded on January 9, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-unravelling-mystery-viruses-infectious.html

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