Structure of Zika virus revealed in new study

pharmafile | April 13, 2016 | News story | Research and Development NIH, Purdue, Zika, glycoprotein, structure 

Researchers have examined the structure of the Zika virus in a new study and found that is broadly similar to dengue and related viruses at the near-atomic level, but with a notable difference that aids its ability to infect human cells.

The epidemic of Zika across the world has led to numerous studies investigating the disease in the hope of eventually developing effective treatments for the virus. As the authors of this report point out: “The recent rapid spread of Zika virus and its unexpected linkage to birth defects and an autoimmune-neurological syndrome has generated worldwide concern.”

Drs Richard Kuhn and Michael Rossmann, from Purdue University, used a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to examine Zika by freezing virus particles and firing a stream of high-energy electrons through the sample to create tens of thousands of images. 2D images are then combined to yield a 3D view of the virus.

The surface of the flavivirus is made of a shell composed of 180 copies of both an envelope glycoprotein and one or two other proteins anchored in a lipid membrane. In this, Zika is similar to other viruses such as dengue, but the researchers pinpointed a difference in the structure for one region of the envelope glycoprotein. It is believed that Zika uses this glycoprotein region to attach to and enter human cells.

It is hoped that this newly identified Zika variation could help explain its ability to attack nerve cells, as well as explore its proposed link to microcephaly. If the glycoprotein site functions in Zika in a similar manner to other viruses, the detailed structure could point the way to the blocking viral attachment and entry to human cells.

Kuhn says: “The structure of the virus provides a map that shows potential regions of the virus that could be targeted by a therapeutic treatment, used to create an effective vaccine or to improve ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses.”

This study was published in Science, and was funded by the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Sean Murray

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