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Trouble with Spikes
27 March 2016

Trouble with Spikes

Human coronaviruses (HCoVs) are involved in many human respiratory diseases, including the common cold. They can also invade neurons [nerve cells] so it’s thought that they may be involved in some neurological diseases. The image shows neurons with their nuclei in blue. The red ones have been infected by HCoV, whereas the green ones haven’t. Scientists studying them recently found a mutation in HCoVs taken from patients that wasn’t in the laboratory version. This mutation leads to a change in the spike protein, which means that it can be cut up by the cells it invades. This makes the mutated viruses less deadly and slower to spread through the nervous system, though they are still just as capable of invading neurons. They also kill fewer victims, so they could be more likely to create long-term infections of the nervous system as the hosts survive.

Written by Esther Redhouse White

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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