Researchers uncover how common cold virus triggers heart problems

Illustration of a common cold virus

A virus that causes the common cold can trigger heart problems and even death and now NHLBI-funded research has helped reveal how it does it. The finding could lead to new treatments for arrythmias, according to a study published in The FASEB Journal.

Adenovirus typically causes cold symptoms, but if it reaches the heart, it can trigger an irregular heart beat call an arrhythmia and even sudden cardiac death. To investigate how the virus interfered with heart function, researchers applied adenovirus to human heart cells in a culture dish and watched what happened.

The virus took over gap junctions, which are channels heart cells use to share electrical signals so they can beat in concert. But the virus also did something unexpected. Not only did it close existing channels, it also shut down the cells’ ability to make new ones. The virus switched a pathway that normally makes new connexin43, a protein essential to gap junction communication, to suppressing it instead.

The researchers say the finding could lead to a better understanding of the molecular biology involved. By determining how the virus is switching the pathway to suppress connexin43, that could lead to new treatments to prevent arrythmias.