Science

A tiny crater on viruses behind the common cold may be their Achilles heel

A newly discovered indentation on the surface of viruses that cause many illnesses, including the common cold, could be their Achilles heel — and a possible target for effective drugs.

When scientists tested antiviral compounds on cells grown in the lab, the team found one that blocked the replication of an enterovirus. Cryo-electron microscopy revealed that the compound binds to and appears to jam a previously unknown pocket on the viruss protein shell, researchers report online June 11 in PLOS Biology.

Additional testing suggests that the pocket is widespread among picornaviruses, the viral family that includes enteroviruses — which cause hand, foot and mouth disease as well as more dangerous infections — and rhinoviruses, responsible for the common cold. There are no antiviral medications available to treat these pathogens.

The pocket “is an excellent target for antivirals” that may be effective against many of these types of viruses, says Susan Hafenstein, a structural virologist with the College of Medicine at Penn State who was not involved in the study.

These viruses mutate very frequently, which makes it “easier for them to escape a drug,” she says. To identify drug targets in the viruses, “it is essential to identify key working components” that these pathogens need to survive.

During an infection, viruses inject their genetic material into cells and take over the cellular machinery to make more viral particles. In picornaviruses, a protein shell surrounds the viruss inner core of genetic material. Previous research suggests the shell changes shape when these viruses are ready to expel their genetic payload during an infection.

But a chemical compound, identified by structural virologist Sarah Butcher of the University of Helsinki, virologist Johan Neyts of the University of Leuven in Belgium andRead More – Source

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