Cracking the Code for the Common Cold

Medicine has been chasing the elusive cure for the common cold for many long years now.  Try as they might though, it keeps eluding them.

But maybe not for much longer, or so say researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Using sinus tissue removed during surgery they have managed to grow a recently discovered species of human rhinovirus (HRV), the most frequent cause of the common cold.

The researchers found that the virus, which is associated with up to half of all HRV infections in children, has reproductive properties that differ from those of other members of the HRV family. The accomplishments, reported in Nature Medicine on April 11, should allow antiviral compounds to be screened to see if they stop the virus from growing.

The report sheds light on HRV-C, the newest member of the HRV family. Discovered five years ago, HRV-C has been notoriously difficult to grow in standard cell cultures and, therefore, impossible to study. In addition to its major role in the common cold, HRV-C is responsible for between 50 and 80% of asthma attacks. It is a frequent cause of wheezing illnesses in infants and may be especially likely to cause asthma attacks in children. HRV infections of all kinds also can greatly worsen chronic lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Like other scientists, Yury Bochkov, a virologist at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health was unable to grow HRV-C in standard cell lines. So he turned to nasal tissue collected following sinus surgery and was surprised to find success. He grew significant amounts of two forms of HRV-C, then sequenced the complete virus genome and engineered an identical copy of it in a plasmid vector.

Studying the reproduction of the living, growing virus, he found that HRV-C replication appeared to occur in specific kinds of cells localized in nasal epithelium tissue.  “We also found that HRV-C does not attach to the two receptors that HRV-A and HRV-B use,” Bochkov says. “HRV-C uses a distinct, yet unknown, receptor that is absent or under-expressed in many cell lines.”

Future drugs emanating from this research could be especially useful for children and adults who have asthma and other lung problems.

But we’re not there yet!  In the meantime, SRxA’s Word on Health suggests we continue doing what our mothers have been telling us for years. Drink plenty of fluids, gargle with salt water and, of course, chicken soup.