Common cold virus could attack the heart’s electrical system, leading to death

In a new study, researchers examined how a usually benign virus attacks the human heart with sometimes fatal consequences.

Adenovirus, which typically can cause a common cold, has a far more dangerous impact if it reaches the heart.

The researchers found that the virus disrupts the heart’s electrical system—and with dual impacts not previously recognized.

They found that adenovirus not only uncouples electrical signaling pathways in the heart, but it also impairs the cells’ ability to make new communication channels.

They made their findings via first-of-their-kind experiments to observe adenovirus effects on human heart cells in a culture dish.

The research was conducted by a team at Virginia Tech.

The discovery may increase understanding of arrythmias, which are problems of the heart’s electrical signaling that can lead to the arrest of the heart’s coordinated beating and even sudden cardiac death.

The research focuses on ventricular arrhythmia that is potentially the most dangerous, but such electrical disturbances can affect all chambers of the heart.

Atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, affects more than 2 million people in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers of the current study confirmed that the virus can effectively hijack the system that heart muscle cells use to communicate.

Similar research is often performed using mouse models, but previously scientists lacked an effective model for adenovirus and the human heart.

The team innovated a diagnostic technique using induced pluripotent stem cell derived-cardiomyocytes—human skin cells converted to heart cells.

This research goes beyond viral infection with the hope that scientists can generate new treatment interventions for diseased hearts.

One author of the study is Patrick Calhoun, a postdoctoral associate.

The study is published in The FASEB Journal.

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