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Scientists find new method Ebola virus uses to infect cells

IANS Dec 20, 2023

A new study has shown that the Ebola virus creates and uses intercellular tunnels to move from cell to cell and evade treatments.

The findings by scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) revealed that the Ebola virus creates the very tunnels it uses to hide and move within the human body.

The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, may help develop effective drugs and therapies that can stop viruses in their tracks.

“Our findings suggest that the virus can create its hiding place, hide and then move to new cells and replicate,” said Olena Shtanko, Assistant Professor at Texas Biomed.

Specifically, the virus is generating something called tunnelling nanotubes -- dynamic connections between cells that allow the cells to communicate by exchanging particles over relatively long distances, up to 200 microns.

While these structures have been shown to play a prominent role in promoting neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, HIV-1 and influenza, Dr. Shtanko is the first to investigate their role in disseminating the Ebola virus.

“When we launched this project a couple of years ago, we thought the general model of the spread of Ebola virus infection -- where a viral particle infects a cell, replication begins, new virus particles are made and released into the body to infect neighbouring cells --was a bit too simplistic,” Dr Shtanko said.

Using state-of-the-art technology with live scanning electrons and high-resolution 3D microscopy, Dr Shtanko and her team showed that Ebola virus infection in cells enhanced the formation of tunnelling nanotubes containing viral particles.

The tunnelling nanotubes then promoted the transfer of these particles to other cells. Notably, the full virus was not required to trigger nanotube formation, only small sections of the virus coding for individual proteins were needed.

This happened even in the presence of treatments meant to stop the Ebola virus.

“Importantly, we observed that Ebola virus infection could spread in cultures treated with virus entry inhibitors or treatments that stop viruses from entering a cell,” Dr. Shtanko explained.

However, scientists are yet to learn how exactly Ebola virus particles are transported through tunnelling nanotubes.

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