Scientists discover how coronavirus enters cells without encountering immune system resistance

With an alarm code, we can enter a building without bells going off. It turns out that the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has the same advantage entering cells. It possesses the code to waltz right in.

On July 24 in Nature Communications, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) reported how the coronavirus achieves this.

The scientists resolved the structure of an enzyme called nsp16, which the virus produces and then uses to modify its messenger RNA cap, said Yogesh Gupta, PhD, the study lead author from the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

"It's a camouflage," Dr. Gupta said. "Because of the modifications, which fool the cell, the resulting viral messenger RNA is now considered as part of the cell's own code and not foreign."

Deciphering the 3D structure of nsp16 paves the way for rational design of antiviral drugs for COVID-19 and other emerging coronavirus infections, Dr. Gupta said. The drugs, new small molecules, would inhibit nsp16 from making the modifications. The immune system would then pounce on the invading virus, recognizing it as foreign.

Yogesh's work discovered the 3D structure of a key enzyme of the COVID-19 virus required for its replication and found a pocket in it that can be targeted to inhibit that enzyme. This is a fundamental advance in our understanding of the virus."

Robert Hromas, MD, Study Co-Author, Professor and Dean, Long School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center

Dr. Gupta is an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology at UT Health San Antonio and is a member of the university's Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute.

In lay terms, messenger RNA can be described as a deliverer of genetic code to worksites that produce proteins.

Journal reference:

Viswanathan, T., et al. (2020) Structural basis of RNA cap modification by SARS-CoV-2. Nature Communications.


  1. Mitchel Cohen Mitchel Cohen United States says:

    The specificity of the research is very interesting for understanding how the virus works, but scientists must also look holistically at treatments for what it is they are discovering. Here, for example, what would be other effects of blocking the enzyme that the virus encodes into the human cells' DNA that enable the virus to enter the body without triggering an immune system response? What is the purpose of that enzyme that they are now considering suppressing?

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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