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Researchers map pathway of infection for a common, potentially life-threatening respiratory virus
Date:8/15/2011

TorontoResearchers at the University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), St. Paul's Hospital and the University of British Columbia have identified a new treatment target for a virus that causes severe lung infections and an estimated 10% of common colds.

The virus, called human respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, is the most common reason for hospitalization of infants and children under two years of age; currently there is no effective therapy or vaccine for it.

"This discovery provides an understanding of the mechanism through which RSV causes infection and offers a target molecule for development of new cell-based therapies," said the study's principal investigator Prof. Richard Hegele, Chair and Professor in U of T's Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology who is also Chief of Paediatric Laboratory Medicine at SickKids.

The research is published in the current edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

The researchers found that RSV interacts with healthy cells by binding with a molecule located on the surface of those cells called nucleolin. By manipulating the function of nucleolin in cell culture, they were able to decrease RSV infection or increase susceptibility to it.

In mice, the researchers showed that disruption of lung nucleolin was associated with significantly reduced RSV infection, confirming that the molecule is a viable therapeutic target.

"While other factors may influence the frequency and severity of RSV infections, our results indicate that the presence of nucleolin on the cell surface is sufficient for RSV to successfully infect cells," said Hegele. "We can now pursue strategies designed to block the interaction of RSV with cell surface nucleolin, the idea being to find approaches that will safely and effectively halt infection by preventing RSV from entering the cell in the first place."

Researchers have been searching for a receptor for RSV for over five decades.
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Contact: Jim Oldfield
jim.oldfield@utoronto.ca
416-946-8423
University of Toronto
Source:Eurekalert

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