JUL 06, 2020 10:02 AM PDT

SARS-CoV-2 Makes Cells Sprout Infectious Tentacles

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The pandemic coronavirus has caused a wide range of different symptoms, and as time goes on, we may find that it can have lasting effects for some people, which can be quite serious. This virus may be asymptomatic in the vast majority of people who are infected with it, but it can also do some weird things that are not like what we've seen from other viruses.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (red) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. / Credit: NIAID

For example, scientists have now learned that when a cell is infected by SARS-CoV-2, it may grow long extensions called dendrites or filopodia that are studded with virus particles like a tentacle. These filopodia will then search for other cells and can reach through their walls, in what appears to be a second way of spreading infection through the body. This study, which will soon be reported in Cell, indicated that uninfected cells sometimes exhibit filopodia too, but their appearance is less frequent, and they are much shorter.

Typically, a virus infects host cells, and to put it simply, turns them into factories that churn out new virus particles. These viruses then attach to new cells in the same way the original infection entered cells, and the cycle continues. It was thought that SARS-CoV-2 was spreading through the body in this same way.

Led by systems biologist Nevan Krogan, UCSF researchers have also begun looking for ways to treat COVID-19 by targeting the human proteins used by the virus. Their work, which has been reported in Nature, may lead to COVID-19 therapeutics that halt filopodia growth to stop the secondary way the virus spreads in the body.

"It’s just so sinister that the virus uses other mechanisms to infect other cells before it kills the cell,” Krogan told the LA Times.

There are other viruses that use filopodia, Krogan noted, including the family of viruses that cause smallpox. But SARS-CoV-2 starts producing their tentacles unusually quickly. They also have a unique shape, with branches like trees that are not seen in other viruses that generate filopodia.

There are several existing cancer drugs that could be useful in fighting this aspect of COVID-19, including  Xospata (used to treat acute myeloid leukemia), and ralimetinib, which is used to treat several types of cancer. All of them are known to be kinase inhibitors like remdesivir, a COVID-19 drug by Gilead.

"We've tested a number of these kinase inhibitors and some are better than remdesivir," Krogan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Sources: LA Times, Cell

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 07, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
An 8 Minute DNA Test For Salmonella
MAY 07, 2020
An 8 Minute DNA Test For Salmonella
Australian researchers have created a sensitive, super-fast test for five different serotypes of Salmonella which could ...
MAY 05, 2020
Microbiology
How a Microbe May Help Stop the Spread of Malaria
MAY 05, 2020
How a Microbe May Help Stop the Spread of Malaria
Scientists have discovered a bacterium that lives in mosquitoes around Lake Victoria, and appears to block malaria.
MAY 27, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Deeper Understanding of How Some Bacterial Toxins Interact With Cells
MAY 27, 2020
A Deeper Understanding of How Some Bacterial Toxins Interact With Cells
The surfaces of cells are decorated with receptors, and the interactions between receptors and their binding partners ar ...
JUN 24, 2020
Microbiology
Genetic Variations Can Affect the Gut Microbiome
JUN 24, 2020
Genetic Variations Can Affect the Gut Microbiome
The small variations in the human genome aren't the only thing that make us unique. We also each carry communities of mi ...
JUN 27, 2020
Microbiology
Learning More About How Bacteria Become Dangerous
JUN 27, 2020
Learning More About How Bacteria Become Dangerous
We have to share the world with microbes; they can grow almost anywhere, from hydrothermal vents deep in the sea, to the ...
AUG 02, 2020
Microbiology
Examining the Existence of Organelles in Bacteria
AUG 02, 2020
Examining the Existence of Organelles in Bacteria
Cells can be grouped into two general categories: prokaryotic, which make up microbes like bacteria and archaea, or euka ...
Loading Comments...