Coronavirus’ cellular exit strategy may aid its spread through the body



Scientists have known for some time that viruses enter and infect cells and then use the cell’s protein-making machinery to make multiple copies of themselves before escaping the cell. However, researchers have only a limited understanding of exactly how viruses exit cells.


IRP researchers led by senior investigator Nihal Altan-Bonnet, Ph.D., discovered a biological pathway that SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, uses to hijack and then exit cells as it spreads through the body. The research team showed for the first time that the novel coronavirus can exit infected cells through their lysosomes, a part of the cell commonly referred to as the cell’s 'trash compactor.' Normally, lysosomes destroy viruses and other pathogens before they leave cells. However, the team found that the coronavirus deactivates the lysosome’s disease-fighting machinery, allowing the virus to exit the cell after doing its damage and continue spreading freely throughout the body.


A better understanding of this important pathway may provide vital insight into how to stop the transmission of COVID-19. In addition, targeting this lysosomal pathway could lead to the development of new, more effective antiviral therapies to fight the disease. Further studies will be needed to determine if such interventions will be effective and whether existing drugs can help block this pathway.


Ghosh S, Dellibovi-Ragheb TA, Kerviel A, Pak E, Qiu Q, Fisher M, Takvorian PM, Bleck C, Hsu VW, Fehr AR, Perlman S, Achar SR, Straus MR, Whittaker GR, de Haan CAM, Kehrl J, Altan-Bonnet G, Altan-Bonnet N. (2020). β-Coronaviruses use lysosomes for egress instead of the biosynthetic secretory pathway. Cell. Dec 10; 183(6):1520-1535.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.10.039.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023