Published on 01 Dec 2020

Scientists discover role of protein in detecting the common cold virus

A team of scientists from NTU and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have uncovered the role of a protein in detecting the common cold virus and kickstarting an immune response to fight infection.

The study was published in one of the world's leading scientific journals Science on 22 October 2020. It showed that the protein NLRP1, found on the skin and in the airways, is a sensor that detects the human rhinovirus (HRV).

The team found that when NLRP1 breaches the respiratory tract, it triggers an immune response leading to inflammation in the lungs and causes symptoms of the common cold.

HRV is a major cause of the common cold and acute respiratory disease in children and adults, which in severe cases, leads to bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

The research team said that discovering NLRP1’s purpose could lead to new treatments for the symptoms of the common cold, which affects millions of people annually. They plan to work with clinicians to develop drug that ‘turn off’ or block NLRP1, to lessen the severity of symptoms for HRV-related diseases.

However, the team noted that blocking the protein in human lung cells did not increase the viral load, which refers to the amount of virus in an infected person's blood.

“Now that we know that NLRP1 is the “on switch” for inflammation after it detects the common cold virus, the next step is to figure out how to block its activation and to minimise the inflammatory response it triggers,” said Assistant Professor Franklin Zhong from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and A*STAR’s Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS).

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