Researchers Identify Critical Factor in Human CMV Infection

Researchers have identified a protein they believe is essential in allowing the human cytomegalovirus (CMV) to cause life-threatening infections. The findings are being published online, ahead of print, on the website of the journal Nature.

“This is a potentially very important finding,” says Liliana Soroceanu, MD, PhD, the lead author of the study from the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute. “The discovery that this protein, called platelet-derived growth factor-alpha receptor (PDGFR-α), is involved in CMV infection suggests a new target for anti-viral therapies.”

CMV, a type of herpes virus, is the most common infection at birth—about 40,000 cases in the U.S. annually. The most frequent complications are hearing or vision loss, and varying degrees of mental retardation.

“Every hour the virus causes one child in the U.S. to become disabled,” says Charles Cobbs, MD, of the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, and one of the authors of the study. “By understanding how CMV gets into a patient’s cell, we can identify new and better ways of treating the infection, or even of preventing it altogether.”

The study shows that CMV has to activate PDGFR-α in order to infect the cell. Once activated, that receptor stimulates the production of yet more virus. This causes a cascade of events that spreads the virus throughout the patient.

The researchers say there are a few already available drugs that may block PDGFR-α, and prevent the virus from infecting cells. One is the anti-cancer medication imatinib (Gleevec®), another is the antibody IMC-3G3 made by ImClone.

The findings have other implications too. CMV infection is sometimes lethal in patients who are immunocompromised. “And this virus has been found in several forms of cancer, particularly brain tumors,” says Cobbs. “Moreover, this growth factor receptor has been known to drive cancer, so our findings suggest that its activation by CMV may promote tumor growth. If further studies verify this, it could help us develop new ways of treating these kinds of cancers.”

Source: California Pacific Medical Center