A study that identifies how a coronavirus protein called Nsp1 blocks the activity of genes that promote viral replication provides hope for new COVID-19 treatments. Since the start of the pandemic, scientists have worked endlessly to understand SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Even with the arrival of vaccines, the virus is still spreading and there is a need to develop alternative therapies. Scientists hope to achieve this by studying how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells and propagates itself while avoiding the body’s natural immune system. Now, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) have contributed to unravelling this puzzle with their results published in the February 5, 2021 issue of Science Advances. The open-access article is titled “Nsp1 Protein of SARS-CoV-2 Disrupts the mRNA Export Machinery to Inhibit Host Gene Expression” (https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/6/eabe7386). “When a virus infects a cell, the way the host cell reacts is to alter cellular pathways (or networks) in certain ways to counteract the viral infection. Viruses can target many of these pathways to favor their own replication,” says Beatriz Fontoura (photo), PhD, Professor of Cell Biology at UTSW and corresponding author of the paper. Viruses replicate by suppressing the host cell’s genes in favor of their own. One way they do this is by blocking the export of messenger RNA (mRNA) from the nucleus of the cell to another compartment called the cytoplasm. Some of these mRNAs code for proteins that can only be made by the cell in the cytoplasm. So, by blocking their export from the nucleus, viruses prevent some proteins from being made (e.g., antiviral proteins) and simultaneously free up the cell’s machinery for their own replication.
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