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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

New research: Scientists probe cell membrane defence against coronavirus

The new research looks to establish a molecular understanding of the membrane properties that allow viral entry, how membranes change when in contact with the virus, and what membrane modifications could inhibit the infection process.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 23, 2020 10:20:45 am
The researchers performed their experiments with a membrane model that closely mirrors the shape and composition of cell membranes within human lungs.

To infect a human cell, the novel coronavirus needs to first bind to the cell membrane using its spike protein. The cell membrane is thus the cell’s outermost line of defence against the coronavirus. Researchers are now investigating what treatments could make the membrane more resistant to virus entry. Cell membranes serve as a barrier between the cell’s interior and its surrounding environment. In themselves, they host many activities necessary for cell function. They are just a few nanometres thick.

Researchers from Virginia Institute of Technology and the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are using neutron scattering to investigate how the cell membrane and the virus impact each other. By determining how the coronavirus penetrates the cell membrane, scientists can develop treatments that hinder this process. Many researchers are exploring ways to combat the virus by targeting its spike proteins, but fewer are paying attention to the site where the infection process begins: the cell membrane.

The new research looks to establish a molecular understanding of the membrane properties that allow viral entry, how membranes change when in contact with the virus, and what membrane modifications could inhibit the infection process. 📣 Click to follow Express Explained on Telegram

The team is using ORNL’s liquids reflectometer (LIQREF) to examine the conformation of membranes and viral spike proteins, as well as the effects of certain therapeutic candidates. With the instrument, scientists can measure the trajectories of neutrons as they interact with different biological materials. They then use this information to determine how a sample is organised at the molecular level.

The researchers performed their experiments with a membrane model that closely mirrors the shape and composition of cell membranes within human lungs. They measured how the membrane’s properties change when exposed to either melatonin or azithromycin — commonly available products that are currently being investigated as possible treatments for mitigating Covid-19 symptoms.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept of Energy

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