Virus evades immune system using a decoy strategy: Study

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Viruses will never cease to amaze us with their indefatigable arsenal of tricks, say the study authors.
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Wellington: New Zealand scientists have discovered more about how viruses operate and can evade the immune system.

According to the study, published in the journal mBio, the research team is now using their discovery to help learn more about Covid-19. The recent study specifically looked at the Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus (OrNV) virus, an important biocontrol agent against the coconut rhinoceros beetle, a devastating pest for coconut and oil palm trees in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The researchers found the virus used a 'decoy' strategy to evade the immune system and explained that these findings are a small step in the bid to better understand infectious disease.

"We have used the same technique to investigate changes in cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 and are continuing work in this area," said study author Dr Mihnea Bostina from the University of Otago.

The research team used electron microscopy to investigate cellular changes occurring during nudivirus infection and found a unique mechanism for how the virus works. The study revealed that the virus acquires a membrane inside the nucleus of the infected cell and it gets fully equipped to infect new cells at this precise location.

According to the researchers, this is in contrast with other enveloped viruses - like coronavirus, which is also an enveloped virus - which derive their membranes from other cellular compartments.

"After it gets fully assembled, the virus uses a clever tactic of passing through different environments, packed inside various membrane structures until it gets released at the cellular membrane," Bostina said.

Study researcher Sai Velamoor said that this strategy implies that many of the viruses released by the infected cells will be enclosed in a cellular membrane while travelling inside the infected organism.

"This means they will be missed by the immune system and they can use this membrane decoy to penetrate any other type of cells, without the need of a virus-specific receptor," she said.

"It shows for the very first time a clever strategy available to insect viruses. It will be interesting to find in what measure other types of viruses - like the ones infecting humans - are also capable of carrying out a similar process," Velamoor added.

The research demonstrates another manner in which viruses are capable of hijacking infected cells and alerts scientists to the novel mechanism of viral transmission.

"Viruses will never cease to amaze us with their indefatigable arsenal of tricks. Only by studying them can we be prepared to adequately respond when they infect us," the study authors wrote.

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