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Scientists are deciphering the riddle of how viruses recognize their host cells


Knowledge could lead to new therapies in the future

Most people are probably aware that viruses can cause all kinds of diseases. To do this, however, the viruses first have to penetrate the interior of human cells. Researchers have now found out how viruses are able to recognize the so-called membrane surfaces of their host cells. The results of the investigation could potentially lead to the development of new therapies in the future.

In a recent study, scientists at the Georg August University in Göttingen were able to determine how viruses recognize the membrane surfaces of their host cells. Based on the results of the study, new forms of treatment could be developed which protect cells against the ingress of viruses. The experts published a press release on the results of their study.

Virus detection mechanism has been decrypted

With the participation of the University of Göttingen, the research team has deciphered the detection mechanism of viruses. With the help of this mechanism, the viruses can penetrate human cells and make us sick. By elucidating the molecular puzzle, new therapies could be developed in the near future, which prevent epidemics such as Zika and Dengue fever, for example.

Viruses have to penetrate host cells in order to reproduce

Viruses are unable to reproduce their genetic material themselves. For this, the viruses have to penetrate so-called host cells. So far, however, the question has been how viruses recognize these host cells. The team of researchers from the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Göttingen Center for Molecular Biosciences (GZMB) found in a joint investigation that viruses are able to recognize suitable host cells based on the composition of the cell membrane.

Viruses use fusion proteins to dock onto cells

The cell surface consists of a movable layer of fat molecules (lipids). These each point outwards with their so-called head group. When viruses try to recognize lipids and then dock onto them, they use a kind of connector. Fusion proteins on the outer shell of viruses act as this.

Viruses transmitted by insects have class II fusion proteins

There are some viruses that can be transmitted by insects. This includes, for example, the triggers of the dangerous zika, dengue and yellow fever. All of these viruses have class II fusion proteins with a very similar molecular structure. For this reason, all of these viruses use the same mechanism to identify host cells and then invade them.

Doctors are examining the fusion protein Gc of the Rift Valley fever virus

The research team analyzed the fusion protein Gc of the Rift Valley fever virus as an example for class II viruses. The so-called Rift Valley fever is a disease that occurs primarily in ruminants in Africa. "We were able to use computers to simulate how the Gc protein binds the lipid head groups and thus anchors them to the host cell," explains GZMB group leader Dr. Jochen Hub in the press release.

The study could only be carried out with the help of high-performance computers

"The simulations took months of computing power from high-performance computers, but now we can understand the virus detection mechanism for membranes at the molecular level," adds the expert. The results of the study are very important because they do not only affect the so-called Rift Valley fever. With the help of the newly gained knowledge, it will be possible to develop effective drugs in the future. These could then block the binding site for lipids and thus prevent possible infections with the viruses already mentioned, the scientists claim. (as)

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