‘Zombie cells’ infected with coronavirus sprout ‘ghoulish’ tentacles that reach out and hijack neighbors

cells infected with sars cov
Credit: Elizabeth Fischer/NIAID/NIH

Researchers exploring the interaction between the coronavirus and its hosts have discovered that when the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects a human cell, it sets off a ghoulish transformation. Obeying instructions from the virus, the newly infected cell sprouts multi-pronged tentacles studded with viral particles.

These disfigured zombie cells appear to be using those streaming filaments, or filopodia, to reach still-healthy neighboring cells. The protuberances appear to bore into the cells’ bodies and inject their viral venom directly into those cells’ genetic command centers — thus creating another zombie.

The authors of the new study, an international team led by researchers at UC San Francisco, say the coronavirus appears to be using these newly sprouted dendrites to boost its efficiency in capturing new cells and establishing infection in its human victims.

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The scientists also believe they have identified several drugs that could disrupt the viral takeover of cells and slow the process by which COVID-19 takes hold. These compounds, many of which were designed as cancer treatments, seem likely to work because they block the chemical signals that activate filopodia production in the first place.

[T]he discovery of filopodia in coronavirus-infected cells suggests that this virus has developed more than one way to wheedle its way into cells and establish itself as a force to be reckoned with.

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