Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Electrical Interference

Adenovirus infection of the heart causes damage by interfering with the heartbeat electrical signalling

04 August 2020

Electrical Interference

A lost bee buzzing around a room is a minor annoyance, but if it inadvertently flies up your sleeve, it becomes a much bigger problem. Similarly, adenoviruses often have minor effects on the body, sometimes causing a bout of the common cold, but can do serious, even fatal, damage if they make it to the heart. To investigate this severe impact, researchers infected human heart cells with the virus in the lab. They found the virus assembles into honeycomb arrays (pictured using electron microscopy) to replicate, and interferes with the electrical signalling between cells by commandeering the channels that join them together. These channels transmit electrical signals that allow the millions of heart cells to coordinate and beat in time. Even worse, the virus prevents the growth of replacement channels, preventing any mitigation of the problem. Could we use the virus’ techniques to take back control and develop new treatments for offbeat hearts?

Written by Anthony Lewis

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