Deadly hantavirus is linked to cholesterol

Posted Feb 18, 2014 by Tim Sandle
Many viruses depend on proteins and nutrients provided by their hosts. A new study shows that proteins involved in the regulation of cholesterol are essential for hantavirus entry into human host cells.
Hantavirus particles
Hantavirus particles
Public Library of Science
Hantavirus is not the most widely known virus. However, it kills about 30 people in the U.S. each year. Hanta is among the most deadly known human viruses: between 30 and 40 percent of people who are diagnosed die from hantavirus pulmonary fever. Infection occurs when humans breathe in small particles that carry excrements from infected rodents.
The virus is carried in rodent droppings, urine and saliva and can contaminate dust. If inhaled or consumed by humans eating contaminated food, it can be deadly. The sickness can be initially mistaken for flu, but symptoms worsen over time. Early detection is critical.
Recently researchers set out to identify factors and pathways in human cells that were important for hantavirus infection. From their study, the group identified four proteins that were involved in hantavirus infection, and all of them were part of a protein complex that regulates cholesterol production.
The scientists next tested whether an experimental drug that targets one of the four proteins could prevent viral entry. They found that treating cells that originated from human airways with this drug before exposing them to virus resembling hanta made the cells less susceptible to virus infection.
The researchers are also of the view that well-known group of cholesterol-lowering drugs that are taken daily by millions of people around the world, could also protect against hantavirus infection.
The research was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and it has been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, in a paper titled “The Major Cellular Sterol Regulatory Pathway Is Required for Andes Virus Infection.”