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Map of Herpes Virus Protein Suggests a New Drug Therapy

Posted Jul 08 2010 2:16pm

The mechanism by which a herpes virus invades cells has remained a mystery to scientists seeking to thwart this family of viruses. New research funded by the National Institutes of Health and published online in advance of print in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology reveals the unusual structure of the protein complex that allows a herpes virus to invade cells. This detailed map of a key piece of the herpes virus “cell-entry machinery” gives scientists a new target for antiviral drugs.

“Most viruses need cell-entry proteins called fusogens in order to invade cells. We have known that the herpes virus fusogen does not act alone and that a complex of two other viral cell-entry proteins is always required. We expected that this complex was also a fusogen, but after determining the structure of this key protein complex, we found that it  does not resemble other known fusogens,” said senior author Ekaterina Heldwein, PhD, assistant professor in the molecular biology and microbiology department at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“This unexpected result leads us to believe that this protein complex is not a fusogen itself but that it regulates the fusogen. We also found that certain antibodies interfere with the ability of this protein complex to bind to the fusogen, evidence that antiviral drugs that target this interaction could prevent viral infection,” Heldwein continued. Heldwein is also a member of the biochemistry and molecular microbiology program faculties at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts.

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