Regulation of cholesterol essential for hantavirus infection

Proteins involved in regulating cholesterol are essential for the entry of hantavirus into human host cells, according to a study recently published in PLOS Pathogens.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania sought the identification of factors and pathways that were important for hantavirus infection. Hantavirus is a rare and deadly virus that causes hantavirus pulmonary fever and kills between 30 and 40 percent of people infected by it. There are approximately 30 known human cases of hantavirus in the U.S. per year.

Viruses depend on proteins and nutrients provided by their hosts. In experiments on the Andes virus, a member of the hantavirus group, the researchers found that four proteins were involved in hantavirus infection. All of the proteins were part of a complex that regulates the production of cholesterol in mammalian cells.

After treating cells with an experimental drug targeting one of the four proteins, the researchers found the cells were less susceptible to viral infection.

Since one of the effects of the experimental drug was the lowering of cholesterol levels in cells, the researchers asked whether statins, a known group of cholesterol-lowering drugs, could protect against hantavirus infection. The researchers tested human cells and found that mevastatin, a member of the statin group that lowers cholesterol by mechanisms not involving the four proteins, made the cells less susceptible to viral infection.

"The sensitivity of ANDV to safe, effective cholesterol-lowering drugs may suggest new treatments for ANDV infection and pathogenesis," the researchers said. "(We hope that) targeting this process might lead to the development of broadly effective antivirals."