Scientists, including those of Indian-origin, have resolved the structure of a molecule which the novel coronavirus uses to make its genetic sequence seem like a part of the host's own, an advance that may lead to the development of new antiviral drugs against COVID-19. According to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the molecule nsp10 modifies the viral mRNAs (which are blueprints for producing proteins) to mimic host cell's own mRNAs.
The researchers from the The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) in the US said by enabling this modification, nsp10 protects the virus from host cell immune response. "It's a camouflage. Because of the modifications, which fool the cell, the resulting viral messenger RNA is now considered as part of the cell's own code and not foreign," said Yogesh Gupta, a co-author of the study from UT Health San Antonio.
According to the researchers, deciphering the 3D structure of nsp16 paves the way for the design of new drugs against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and other emerging coronavirus infections. These drugs, Gupta said can be designed to inhibit nsp16 from making the modifications, so that the host immune system would pounce on the invading virus, recognising it as foreign.
"Yogesh's work discovered the 3D structure of a key enzyme of the COVID-19 virus required for its replication and found a pocket in it that can be targeted to inhibit that enzyme. This is a fundamental advance in our understanding of the virus," said study coauthor Robert Hromas. Based on the findings, the researchers have suggested structural sites on the SARS-CoV-2 nsp10 molecule which they say can be targeted for antiviral development.