A breakthrough discovery about the cell invasion mechanism of the herpes virus may pave the way for new antiviral drugs.
The exact nature of the cell-entry system used by this family of viruses has long mystified scientists.
Now a team from the Tufts University School of Medicine in the US has mapped an unusual protein complex that is believed to play a key role in helping the virus attack cells.
Professor Ekaterina Heldwein, senior author of the paper published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, explained: “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.”
The surprising finding led the researchers to believe that the protein complex is not a fusogen, but a molecule that regulates it.
Prof Heldwein added: “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.”
Copyright Press Association 2010