04-Mar-2022 - Technische Universität München

Targeted enzymes destroy virus RNA

RNA interference as a new approach for the treatment of COVID-19

A research team led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has successfully used specific enzymes to destroy the genetic information of SARS-CoV-2 directly after the virus penetrates the cell. The findings could serve as the basis for a therapy to treat COVID-19.

Our genome contains building instructions for proteins and other molecules. In order for these to be produced by the cell, a kind of transcript of these building instructions must first be created, which takes the form of so-called RNA molecules. The transcript is recognized and implemented by the cells.

"However, there is also a mechanism that can very specifically destroy this RNA, which takes place in all human cells as part of gene regulation," explains Dr. Thomas Michler, who led the current study at the Institute of Virology of TUM and Helmholtz Zentrum München. "It is the so-called RNA interference."  

In this process, short pieces of RNA are formed in the cell, called siRNA (small interfering RNA). These segments can bond to specific spots in an RNA molecule. Together with proteins, the siRNA forms what is called the RNA-Induced Silencing Complex (RISC), an enzyme which then cuts the target RNA.

Virus introduces RNA into cell

"Efforts have been made for quite some time now to make therapeutic use of this mechanism," says Ulrike Protzer, head of the TUM Institute of Virology. "A lot of progress has been made in this area over the last few years. Among other things, it is now possible to stabilize siRNA by chemical modifications so that it is not broken down so quickly in cells."

In SARS-CoV-2, there are two targets for RNA interference: First, the genome of the virus consists of RNA, which is introduced into the infected cell and contains the blueprint for new viruses. Second, so-called subgenomic RNA molecules are formed, which instruct the host cell to produce viral proteins.

Start of the replication cycle as the most effective point of attack

The research team primarily wanted to find out which of the virus RNA structures can be best attacked and at which step of the replication cycle treatment should take place. "Our main finding is that the RNA interference is most effective when the virus has just penetrated into the cell," says Shubhankar Ambike, one of the study's first authors. Here, siRNAs that selectively target the viral genome were superior to other siRNAs that target the subgenomic RNA molecules.

Working together with colleagues at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and German Research Center for Environmental Health Helmholtz Zentrum München, the researchers also performed experiments on human lung tissue which they had infected with SARS-CoV-2. The experiments confirmed their results. In a follow-up project, the researchers are now planning to develop a method which can be used to bring the active ingredient into the lung in the most effective possible manner. The results could then serve as the basis for therapies to treat other viral respiratory diseases.

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Covid-19
  • coronaviruses
  • RNA interference
  • RNA

More about TUM

  • News

    Molecular monitoring of RNA regulation

    The better we understand cellular processes such as RNA regulation, the better molecular therapies can be developed. Until now, it has been especially difficult to track the regulation of non-coding RNA, which is RNA that is not further converted into proteins. A research team from the Tech ... more

    Synthetic peptides may suppress formation of harmful deposits

    In Alzheimer's disease, the degeneration of brain cells is linked to formation of toxic protein aggregates and deposits known as amyloid plaques. Similar processes play an important role also in type 2 diabetes. A research team under the lead of the Technical University of Munich has now de ... more

    First electric nanomotor made from DNA material

    A research team led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has succeeded for the first time in producing a molecular electric motor using the DNA origami method. The tiny machine made of genetic material self-assembles and converts electrical energy into kinetic energy. The new nanomot ... more

  • q&more articles

    Vital wheat gluten, a protein with potential

    For almost every one of the 17 goals that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out, food and its value chain plays an important role [1]. With this agenda, the United Nations has created a global framework for action that addresses all social players. more

    Biobased raw material flows of the future

    Anthropogenic climate change and the rising world population, in combination with increasing urbanization, poses global challenges to our societies that can only be solved by technological advancement. The direct biotechnological use of greenhouse gases, including residual biomass flows fro ... more

    Taste and aroma boost in the mouth

    The food trend towards healthy snacks is continuing. Snacks made from freeze-dried fruit meet consumer expectations of modern and high-quality food. However, freeze drying of whole fruits requires long drying times and substantially reduces sensorial quality, which is unappealing to consumers. more

  • Authors

    Prof. Dr. Thomas Becker

    Thomas Becker, born in 1965, studied Technology and Biotechnology of Food at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). He then worked as a project engineer at the company Geo-Konzept from 1992 to 1993. In 1995, he received his PhD from the TUM. From 1996 to 2004 he was Deputy Head of Depart ... more

    Monika C. Wehrli

    Monika Wehrli, born in 1994, graduated from the ETH Zurich with a major in food process engineering. Since 2018 she has been working as a researcher at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, at the Chair of Brewing and Beverage Technology, where she pursues her doctorate in the field ... more

    Prof. Dr. Thomas Brück

    Thomas Brück, born in 1972, obtained his B.Sc. in chemistry, biochemistry and management science from Keele University, Stoke on Trent. Additionally, he holds an M.Sc. in molecular medicine from the same institution. In 2002, Thomas obtained his Ph.D. in Protein Biochemistry from Imperial C ... more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by: