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article imageNew understanding into how MERS infects

By Tim Sandle     Nov 15, 2014 in Science
A new study has shown how the deadly MERS virus enters human cells. This new insight provides information about the rate of infection. The results could also signal a new path for treatment.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is the sixth type of coronavirus identified. It is very much like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and it causes fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It has a 30 percent morality rate. The virus has spread to different parts of the world, primarily through travel, although the hub remains the Middle East.
Researchers have, for the first time, discovered how the virus enters human cells. This is due to a fairly unremarkable protease enzyme known as furin. This enzyme activates the MERS-CoV to fuse with cell membranes and enter host cells. This point is termed the “cleavage site.”
From this finding, researchers are exploring whether furin can be halted at a certain point in the cell entry process. If so, this could result in a treatment by preventing the virus from entering cells. If MERS does not enter cells then it cannot reproduce.
It might also be possible to block the process whereby the MERS virus attempts to leave the host cell. The virus needs to do this in order to continue infecting the body. This is a different cleavage site to the one where the virus enters the cell. The only limitation is whether the virus is sufficiently adaptable to be able to counteract the blocking strategy.
The findings have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled “Host cell entry of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus after two-step, furin-mediated activation of the spike protein.”
In related news, the furin protein is seen to be key to stopping the Ebola virus from replicating in human cells.
More about mers, Virus, respiratory infections, Sars, furin
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