NWO grant to unravel the control room of coronaviruses

Coronaviruses hijack parts of our cells, creating a closed control room in which they replicate. This fortress also protects the virus from our body's defence mechanisms. With an Open Competition grant from science funder NWO, researchers at LUMC will take a closer look at this viral control room.

NWO grant to unravel the control room of coronaviruses

"Coronaviruses use infected cells to replicate themselves and make new virus particles," says Montse Bárcena, researcher in the Department of Cell and Chemical Biology. To copy their genome, coronaviruses hijack membranes in our cells and transform them into special compartments. These sealed chambers for virus replication also serve as shelters against the cell's defence mechanisms, making it easier for the virus to propagate. Bárcena and colleagues will use a €700,000 Open Competition grant to find out exactly how this hiding place arises and works.

A new way out

Recently, the researchers discovered a special opening in the membrane shell of the coronaviral control room. "This allows the viral genome to be transported from the hide-out to another part of the cell, where it is packaged into new virus particles," Bárcena explains. The new virus particles then leave the cell to infect others cells, where this whole process starts all over again. "We now want to understand how this passage is constructed and how exactly it works," says Eric Snijder, professor of Molecular Virology. "These insights will hopefully lead to new strategies to attack these virus hideouts in order to prevent virus replication and disease."

New treatment options

Bárcena and Snijder are using several advanced techniques for this purpose, including biochemical techniques and cryo-electron microscopy, which allow the smallest components of a cell to be visualised. "This takes our knowledge of coronavirus replication to the next level, which is crucial for developing new antiviral treatments," says Bárcena.


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