Research highlight

Rotoviruses stick to sugars

Nature Chemical Biology

December 22, 2008

Sugar molecules on the surface of host cells are linked to all rotovirus infections, according to research published online in Nature Chemical Biology this week. The unexpected finding promises to aid efforts to develop treatments for this dangerous virus.

Rotoviruses attack cells of the gut and are the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children. Many animals can be treated for the virus with a protein called sialidase, which cuts sialic acids ? a specific group of sugar molecules ? from the cell surface. Unsuccessful attempts to treat other rotoviruses with this protein resulted in the rotoviruses being grouped into two classes of ‘sialidase-sensitive’ and ‘sialidase-insensitive’ strains.

Mark von Itzstein and colleagues use nuclear magnetic resonance and cellular assays to demonstrate that a ‘sialidase-insensitive’ virus strain, Wa, does recognize sialic acids and in fact this interaction increases its ability to infect the host cell. The research demands a rethinking of how rotoviruses work and may point to new treatments for the infection.

doi: 10.1038/nchembio.134

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