Magazine article Science News

Enzyme Acts as Door for the SARS Virus

Magazine article Science News

Enzyme Acts as Door for the SARS Virus

Article excerpt

A year ago, a mystery virus began to kill people in China. Causing an illness dubbed severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the virus quickly spread beyond Asia and for a few months stirred fears of a worldwide epidemic.

With stunning speed, scientists identified the virus and decoded its genetic sequence (SN: 4/26/03, p. 262). Now, a research team has claimed victory in the race to identify the cellular receptor--the protein to which the virus attaches when it infects cells--for the SARS virus. Since the protein turned out to be a well-known one that had previously been implicated in heart disease, drugs that target the receptor are already under. development. Some of those same compounds might serve as antiviral medications for SARS patients, say researchers.

Michael Farzan of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and his colleagues went fishing for the receptor with a lure made of the molecule on the surface of the SARS virus that docks with the cell's receptor. They burst monkey-kidney cells, which the virus easily infects, and then cast the viral-surface molecule into the resulting debris.

The SARS-receptor molecule latched on to three proteins, but only one of these, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is typically found on the surface of mammalian cells.

Several subsequent experiments, reported in the Nov. 27 Nature, make the case that the human form of ACE2 is a SARS-virus receptor. First, human-kidney cells engineered to produce ACE2 fuse with cells engineered to make the SARS virus' surface molecule. …

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