A girl sneezing

Common colds are often caused by rhinoviruses — and scientists have found a way to halt their proliferation. Credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty

Biochemistry

A potential cure for the common cold

A designer compound stops rhinoviruses in their tracks.

A synthetic molecule blocks the proliferation of the viruses responsible for at least one-quarter of common colds.

Cold viruses called rhinoviruses hijack cells to make viral proteins and produce new infectious particles. During this process, infected cells attach a fatty acid to a viral protein called VP0, a step thought to be crucial for the assembly of new virus particles.

Roberto Solari and Edward Tate at Imperial College London, UK, and their colleagues developed a molecule — based on a compound found in the malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) — that prevents this fatty-acid attachment. When the researchers added the molecule to infected cells, it blocked the assembly of new virus particles without having any toxic effects on treated cells.

Similar approaches could be used to treat rhinovirus infections that worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis, the authors say.