Viruses Can Employ Decoy Strategies to Evade Immune System, Says Study

The authors found that the virus employed a 'decoy' strategy to dodge the immune system, and intend to apply their findings to unravel more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus

A study published in the journal mBio has gathered more insights into how viruses can evade the immune system. The researchers from New Zealand specifically focussed on Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus (OrNV) virus, a crucial biocontrol agent against the devastating pest in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands-the coconut rhinoceros beetle.

The scientists found that the virus employed a "decoy" strategy to dodge the immune system and illustrated that these learnings were a small step in the efforts towards a better understanding of the infectious disease. Now, the authors intend to apply their findings to unravel more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Dr. Mihnea Bostina from the University of Otago, co-author of the study, said in a statement, "We have used the same technique to investigate changes in cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 and are continuing work in this area."

Virus (Representational Picture) Pixabay

Fully Equipped to Infect Cells

The research team used electron microscopy to investigate cellular changes occurring during nudivirus infection and found a unique mechanism for how the virus works. The study revealed that the virus acquires a membrane inside the nucleus of the infected cell and it gets fully equipped to infect new cells at this precise location.

According to the researchers, this is in contrast with other enveloped viruses - like coronavirus, which is also an enveloped virus - which derive their membranes from other cellular compartments.

"After it gets fully assembled, the virus uses a clever tactic of passing through different environments, packed inside various membrane structures until it gets released at the cellular membrane," Bostina said.

Viruses Hijack Infected Cells

Study researcher Sai Velamoor said that this strategy implies that many of the viruses released by the infected cells will be enclosed in a cellular membrane while traveling inside the infected organism.

"This means they will be missed by the immune system and they can use this membrane decoy to penetrate any other type of cells, without the need of a virus-specific receptor," she said. "It shows for the very first time a clever strategy available to insect viruses. It will be interesting to find in what measure other types of viruses - like the ones infecting humans - are also capable of carrying out a similar process," Velamoor added.

The research demonstrates another manner in which viruses are capable of hijacking infected cells and alerts scientists to the novel mechanism of viral transmission. "Viruses will never cease to amaze us with their indefatigable arsenal of tricks. Only by studying them can we be prepared to adequately respond when they infect us," the study authors wrote.

(With inputs from agencies)