Researchers at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science have discovered where influenza A viruses assemble their genomes into infected cells, which may contribute to therapies that prevent or combat new strains of influenza viruses.
Influenza A virus is known to form new strains every year, and a new study by the Gulbenkian Institute of Cellular Viral Infection Cell Biology Group (IGC) has found where it fits the genome of influenza A virus into the infected cells.
A statement from the institute explains that the strains “are the result of small variations occurring at the level of the genome, which cause the virus to become different and no longer recognized by the immune system.”
The study, by a team led by Maria João Amorim, reveals that the selection of genetic material is done in compartments called ‘viral inclusions’ and that these compartments are not delimited by a membrane, as with the organelles traditionally known in cells.
On the contrary, ‘viral inclusions’ are separated from the surrounding environment by a process called phase separation, similar to vinegar and olive oil when placed together.
“In this way, the genetic material segments of the virus are segregated and confined to a small space where it is easier to form the genome,” says the IGC note.
In a written statement, Maria João Amorim points out that the results obtained “pave the way for alternative therapies that attack the formation of the (virus) genome, or where the genome is formed.”
For the researcher, the findings of the study are innovative “because it is one of the initial observations that demonstrate that viral infections resort to processes of phase separation.”
Influenza A virus can only multiply within the cells of the body it has infected because it needs to use the cellular machinery of the host.
When infection occurs, the virus enters into the cell and releases its genetic material and some proteins.
However, these viruses have an unusual peculiarity: their genome is segmented into eight distinct parts.
Thus, during virus multiplication, the eight parts of the genetic material are replicated many times. The formation of new viruses requires that these eight segments be grouped within the same viral particle, which implies a very precise selection from thousands of molecules that are mixed. Until now it was unknown where this selection was made.
The results of the study will be published this week in the journal Nature Communications and may contribute to therapies that prevent, prevent or combat new strains of influenza viruses.
According to the IGC, this work opens the door to investigate the role that phase separation plays in infections caused by other microorganisms.