A recent study in the journal Cell Reports revealed that the flu virus has a built-in clock that tells it when to strike to have maximum impact.
According to the report, the internal molecular clock tells the virus how much time it has to multiply, infect other cells and spread to other humans. If the virus attacks too early, it is too weak, and if it leaves too late, the immune system can fight it off, BBC reports.
Professor Benjamin tenOever of Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine said that the virus, once inside of a human cell, multiplies by taking resources from the cell. The immune system is then alerted to the presence of the virus.
The researchers found that the virus collects a particular protein called NEP that allows it to exit the cell and spread to other cells. The virus has linked the production with NEP to the NS1 protein to stop it from making too much NEP.
Attempts to reset the internal clock, researchers say, could lead to new ways to fight influenza.
“We wanted to tap into the flu’s internal clock and find a way to dismantle it to prevent the spread of the virus,” tenOever said, according to BBC.
The researchers manipulated the virus to make it acquire the NEP protein too quickly, causing the virus to exit the cell too quickly and not replicate.
Acquiring the protein too slowly would also give an advantage to the immune system, which would have time to prepare a response and prevent infection.
“We knew that the virus has about eight hours in a cell to create enough copies of itself to continue spreading before the cell’s antiviral alarm would be set off,” tenOever said, BBC reports. “On a broader level, the virus needs two days of continuous activity to infect enough cells to permit spread to another human being.
“We wanted to tap into the flu’s internal clock and find a way to dismantle it to prevent the spread of the virus.”