First identified in 2012, the MERS-coronavirus is capable of causing severe and often fatal pneumonia. There are no effective treatments for MERS. Researchers from the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin recently identified a cellular recycling process known as autophagy as a potential target in the fight against MERS. Autophagy-inducing substances - including certain licensed drugs - were shown to be capable of drastically reducing the rate at which the virus replicates. Results from this research have been published in Nature Communications .
The MERS pathogen is capable of causing a flu-like illness (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) which is often associated with pneumonia. Since its appearance in 2012, approximately 2,500 cases have been reported to the WHO across a total of 27 countries. Approximately one third of infections have resulted in death. A team co-led by PD Dr. Marcel Müller of the Institute of Virology on Campus Charité Mitte recently discovered that the MERS virus can only replicate efficiently if it inhibits a cellular process known as autophagy. Based on this initial discovery, the researchers went on to identify substances which are capable of inducing autophagy and can thus be used to limit viral infection.
The term autophagy refers to a type of cellular recycling process which enables cells to dispose of damaged materials and waste products, while retaining intact components for incorporation into new cellular structures. This autophagic degradation, or 'auto-digestion', is also capable of identifying pathogen-derived components, such as the building blocks of viruses, which are treated as waste products and eliminated. A range of viruses are known to have developed strategies to dysregulate or inhibit autophagy. PD Dr. Müller and his colleagues therefore set out to determine whether the MERS virus is capable of modulating autophagic degradation. As a first step, and using stringent biosafety conditions, the researchers infected cells with the MERS virus. Subsequent observations revealed a disruption to the cellular recycling process in cells infected with the virus.
This result clearly indicated that the MERS pathogen benefits from an attenuation of the cellular recycling process." PD Dr. Marcel Müller of the Institute of Virology on Campus Charité Mitte Related Stories
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