Scientists from Washington State University claim to have discovered how one of the planet's most deadly viruses uses teamwork to "break into" the human cell.
Virologist Hector Aguilar-Carreno and his team of researchers were studying how the Paramyxovirus family of viruses, which includes the deadly Nipah virus (NiV), infiltrate cells.
The results, published in PLOS Pathogens, reveal that two proteins on the surface of the virus collaborate to gain entry to the cell. The researchers liken this to the work of two skilled burglars - one protein "casing the joint" while the other waits for "the signal" to break in.
"Our study provides the most complete picture of what happens after Nipah virus attaches itself to the surface of the human cell to gain entry. This is important not only to our understanding of how Nipah is transmitted, but also for viruses of the same family that can cause serious human and animal diseases."
High mortality rate
Fruit bats of the genus Pteropus act as 'reservoir hosts' to the Nipah virus, and can transmit it to other animals and humans.
In this instance, the hosts of the virus were fruit bats, which do not suffer symptoms but are "reservoir hosts." Pigs and other domestic animals are susceptible to the virus and can pass it to humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights how contagious the virus is pointing out that in an outbreak in Bangladesh in 2010, a physician treating patients and a family member who hugged a dead relative both became infected.
But Aguilar-Carreno is confident their research will help scientists understand just how to treat this virulent disease.
"Our study reveals the intricate steps that one Nipah virus undertakes in order to enter a 10,000-times-larger healthy cell. The more we understand about Nipah's molecular mechanics, the more likely scientists can develop a drug to block it from infecting."
Working with disabled NiV microbes that lacked the power to infect, the researchers discovered that two proteins act as "forward scouts" - one seeking an opportunity to invade and signaling the "go-ahead" to the second protein to start the fusion process. The researchers claim this signaling is so efficient that it helps explain how a single virus can launch a full-blown infection in humans.
"The virus is able to fuse its own membrane with the membrane of a healthy cell and then invade with its RNA. Once inside its cell host, Nipah multiplies by the thousands and the infection process begins."
Medical News Today reported recently that researchers from The Scripps Research Institute had unraveled the structure of a key protein in the virus.