Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Cold Damage

Airway cells change metabolism in response to rhinovirus infection

04 August 2021

Cold Damage

The common cold is, as the name suggests, a pervasive pest. Infection can damage cells of our respiratory system, leading to inflammation and further problems. To investigate how this damage occurs, a study looked at infection in the cells lining airways (pictured, with tiny hair structures of the airway in pink and a cold-causing human rhinovirus highlighted green). They discovered that in response to infection, cells launch into a temporary state of metabolism, characterised by high rates of glycolysis (a process of breaking down sugars). This behaviour helps the cells present a protective barrier against infection, but eventually wanes, allowing the virus to gain ground and cause damage. Artificially boosting glycolysis reinvigorated the cells’ protective spirit, restoring the barrier and combating disease progression. Targeting this molecular pathway could be a route for new treatments to rescue airways from the brink of dysfunction, and prevent severe infections worsening.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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