Scientists determine structure of Zika virus

Purdue University researchers first to determine structure of Zika virus, revealing insights critical to the development of treatments and vaccines


The team also identified regions within the Zika virus structure where it differs from other flaviviruses

A team led by Purdue University researchers has become the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus, which reveals insights critical to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines.

The team also identified regions within the Zika virus structure where it differs from other flaviviruses, the family of viruses to which Zika belongs that includes dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitic viruses.

A paper detailing the findings was published Thursday (March 31) in the journal Science and is available online.

Any regions within the virus structure unique to Zika have the potential to explain differences in how a virus is transmitted and how it manifests as a disease, said Richard Kuhn, director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases (PI4D) who led the research team with Michael Rossmann, Purdue's Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences.

"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 our ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses," said Dr Kuhn, who also is head of Purdue's Department of Biological Sciences. "Determining the structure greatly advances our understanding of Zika - a virus about which little is known. It illuminates the most promising areas for further testing and research to combat infection."

Zika virus transmission has been reported in 33 countries. Of the countries where Zika virus is circulating, 12 have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome, and Brazil and French Polynesia have reported an increase in microcephaly, according to the WHO. In February, WHO declared the Zika virus to be "a public health emergency of international concern".

"This breakthrough illustrates not only the importance of basic research to the betterment of human health, but also its nimbleness in quickly addressing a pressing global concern," said Purdue president Dr Mitch Daniels. "This talented team of researchers solved a very difficult puzzle in a remarkably short period of time, and have provided those working on developing vaccines and treatments to stop this virus a map to guide their way."

Dr Rossmann and Dr Kuhn collaborated with Theodore Pierson, chief of the viral pathogenesis section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Additional research team members include Purdue graduate student Devika Sirohi and postdoctoral research associates Zhenguo Chen, Lei Sun and Thomas Klose.

The team's paper marks the first published success of the new Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases in Purdue's Discovery Park.
The university's recently announced $250 million investment in the life sciences funded the purchase of advanced equipment that allowed the team to do in a couple of months what otherwise would have taken years, Dr Rossmann said.


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