The Novel Coronavirus Makes Cells Grow Infectious Tentacles
Last Updated 11 September, 2020. Cellspect Co., Ltd.
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, has now infected more than 27 million people worldwide and killed more than 900,000.  Researchers around the world are taking part in an unprecedented effort to reveal how the coronavirus spreads once it enters the body, in order to find the right drugs to target it.
Scientists have discovered that the novel coronavirus may be even more sinister and macabre than previously thought. Like a scene from a horror movie, the virus can alter certain proteins in infected cells and make cells grow infectious tentacles. 
In a study described in April in the journal Nature, the researchers found that 49 of the 332 human proteins that were previously found to interact with the coronavirus were phosphorylated differently in monkey cells infected with the virus compared with those not infected.  In other words, when the novel coronavirus infects a cell, it hijacks 49 kinase enzymes. Kinase is "extremely important" for many cellular processes, including protein synthesis, cell division, signaling, cell growth, development and aging. The novel coronavirus hijacks kinase including one called CK2 and generates hair-like tentacles, called filopodia, that protrude from the cell with virus particles inside them. There are other viruses that use tentacles (filopodia), the author 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.
Recently, the same research team further published the high-resolution imaging of the infected cells showed that the cells had grown tentacle-like protrusions filopodia, which contained viral proteins. Those tentacles then poke holes in nearby cells, allowing the virus to infect new cells. 
The researchers then identified 87 drugs that are either approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or currently in clinical trials that might target some of these kinases or pathways that are altered by SARS-CoV-2 in both human and monkey cells. Kinases are "very druggable," the author said. They found that seven of these compounds, mostly anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds, inhibited the virus from replicating and growing in both human lung cells and monkey kidney cells. The findings were published in the journal Cell on June 28.
This study "is careful and thorough, but has some limitations," said Carol Shoshkes Reiss, a professor of Biology and Neural Science at New York University, who was not a part of the study. The researchers tested how the virus infects cells using non-human cells, rather than primary human airway cells, she said. The authors acknowledge this limitation in the study, she added. They also didn't demonstrate their ideas worked in any of the top animal models used to study SARS-CoV-2 infections, such as transgenic mice or hamsters. "It definitely has potential, if tested appropriately," she said. "But, you have to realize that these pathways are essential, and although there are licensed drugs that target them, the potential for side effects and off-target impact is high." 
World Health Organization: WHO https://www.who.int/
Yasemin Saplakoglu. July 10, 2020. “Coronavirus hijacks cells, forces them to grow tentacles, then invades others” Live Science news.
David E. Gordon et al., Arp 30, 2020 “A SARS-CoV-2 protein interaction map reveals targets for drug repurposing” Nature. 583, pages459–468
Mehdi Bouhaddou et al. June 28, 2020 “The Global Phosphorylation Landscape of SARS-CoV-2 Infection” Cell. 182, ISSUE 3, P685-712.E19
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