Lysosomes key to coronavirus shedding, finds study
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Researchers have have discovered a biological pathway that the novel coronavirus appears to use to hijack and exit cells as it spreads through the body.

Team showed for the first time that the coronavirus can exit infected cells through the lysosome, an organelle known as the cells’ “trash compactor.”

Normally the lysosome destroys viruses and other pathogens before they leave the cells. However, the coronavirus deactivates the lysosome’s disease-fighting machinery, allowing it to freely spread throughout the body.

Conventional wisdom has long held that most viruses—including influenza, hepatitis C, and West Nile—exit through the so-called biosynthetic secretory pathway. Researchers have assumed that coronaviruses also use this pathway.

But in a pivotal experiment, the team exposed coronavirus-infected cells to certain chemical inhibitors known to block the biosynthetic pathway. “To our shock, these coronaviruses got out of the cells just fine,” author said. “This was the first clue that maybe coronaviruses were using another pathway.”

To look for that pathway, the researchers designed additional experiments using microscopic imaging and virus-specific markers involving human cells. They discovered that coronaviruses somehow target the lysosomes, which are highly acidic, and congregate there.

That finding raised yet another question for Altan-Bonnet’s team: If coronaviruses are accumulating in lysosomes and lysosomes are acidic, why are the coronaviruses not destroyed before exiting?

Lysosomes get de-acidified in coronavirus-infected cells, significantly weakening the activity of their destructive enzymes. As a result, the viruses remain intact and ready to infect other cells when they exit.

“These coronaviruses are very sneaky,” Altan-Bonnet said. “They’re using these lysosomes to get out, but they’re also disrupting the lysosome so it can’t do its job or function.”

Targeting this lysosomal pathway could lead to the development of new, more effective antiviral therapies to fight COVID-19.

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