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Physics Faculty Yohannes Abate Conducts Coronavirus-Related Research

May 1, 2020

Cell Membrane Penetration Mechanism Revealed at Nanoscale

Enveloped viruses, such as HIV, Ebola and Influenza, are among the deadliest known viruses.

These viruses can enter the host cell differently, but the most common process for enveloped viruses involves a complex fusion of the virus into the cell membrane. Cellular membrane penetration of enveloped viruses is a critical step in the cascade of events that lead to entry into the host cell.

Conventional ensemble fusion assays rely on collective responses to membrane fusion events, and do not allow direct and quantitative studies of the subtle and intricate fusion details. But such details are accessible via single particle investigation techniques.

In this study, Prof. Yohannes Abate’s research group used nano-infrared spectroscopic imaging to investigate the chemical and structural modifications that occur prior to membrane fusion in influenza X31. The group traced in real-space structural and spectroscopic alterations that occur during environmental pH variations in single virus particles.

Additionally, using nano-spectroscopic imaging the researchers quantified the effectiveness of an antiviral compound in stopping viral membrane disruption (a novel mechanism for inhibiting viral entry into cells) during environmental pH variations.

Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 1.36.01 PM.pngAbate states, “A remarkable finding of our work is that we directly show that if the environment pH is lowered, disruption of viral membrane could occur without the presence of a targeting membrane, contrary to the current viral fusion model.”

Such comprehensive studies of the cell membrane penetration behavior by viruses provide important information for antiviral therapies and vaccines development against many human infections such as Influenza, HIV, Coronavirus, Ebola and others.

This work has been recently published in PLOS ONE.

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