Scientists reveal new insights about the common cold virus

Researchers from the Max R. Perutz Laboratories of the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna said on Dec. 30 that they have uncovered more information about the common cold and how the virus infects humans.

The rhinovirus causes the common cold. It is a tiny, almost round particle that contains tightly packed genetic material that is enclosed in a protein shell.

Scientists discovered how the cold virus' RNA is prepped to leave the protein shell and infect humans. The study's results were published in PNAS.

"Interestingly we found that the conformation of the RNA, and in turn its interaction with the inner side of the virus capsid changes," Max F. Perutz Laboratories Researcher Dieter Blaas said. "This seems to be crucial to 'avoid knots' when the long thread-like RNA molecule is unfolded in order to exit the capsid."

Because the common cold virus is not fully understood, researchers at Max R. Perutz Laboratories and the University of Vienna continue studying the rhinovirus. They are now looking at how the RNA "knows" where to leave the protective shell to reach the host's cellular membrane. Once the RNA has penetrated the cell membrane, it can replicate and create more virus particles.

The rhinovirus belongs to the family of picornaviruses, and the study results apply to other viral diseases, such as polio or hepatitis A. Understanding how the RNA prepares and leaves the cell body could give clues for new types of therapy.