Researchers have discovered a way to disable a key part of the SARS coronavirus that allows it to hide from the body’s immune system.
Led by Professor Andrew Mesecar, a team of researchers at Purdue University have identified a key SARS enzyme that allows host cells to go un-noticed. The enzyme, papain-like protease, strips a host cell of two proteins, ibiquitin and ISG15, that can trigger an immune response.
“With most viruses, when a cell is infected it sends out an alarm triggering an immune response that fights the infection, but successful viruses are able to trick the immune system,” Mesecar said. “By clipping off these two proteins, SARS short circuits the host cell’s signalling pathways and prevents it from alerting the immune system to its presence. By removing these proteins, the enzyme serves as a biological cloaking system for the SARS virus that allows it to live and replicate undetected.”
To goal for Mesecar and his team is to engineer a SARS virus with the potential to form the foundation of a SARS vaccine. The importance of their finding is that a SARS virus suitable for development into a vaccine must resemble the original virus sufficiently so as to prime the immune system. With just the cloaking device of the virus tampered with, the virus and it’s ability to replicate will be sufficiently similar to the original virus for the body to adequately prepare for an infection.
According to Mesecar, this research could also have implications on the development of vaccines for other corona viruses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) because the papain-like protease enzyme appears to be common amongst all coronaviruses.
Find the results of Mesecar’s research at PLoS Pathogens here.