Structure of key protein in Zika virus mapped

Indo Asian News Service

New York, March 28 (IANS) Scientists have cracked the full structure of a key protein in Zika virus (ZIKV) which may lead to a better understanding of how the deadly virus replicates itself as well as to potential treatments.

ZIKV is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito.

The protein -- ZIKV NS5 -- helps in the genomic replication process of the virus and this unique function may make it an ideal target for anti-viral drug development, the study said.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers determined the crystal structure of the entire ZIKV NS5 protein and demonstrated that NS5 is functional when purified in vitro.

"We started this work realising that the full structure of ZIKV NS5 was missing," said Jikui Song,Assistant Professor at the University of California.

"The main challenge for us occurred during the protein's purification process when ZIKV NS5 got degraded -- chopped up -- by bacterial enzymes," Song added.

Thus, they developed an efficient protocol for protein purification, which in essence minimised the purification time for NS5.

"Our work provides a framework for future studies of ZIKV NS5 and opportunities for drug development against ZIKV based on its structural similarity to the NS5 protein of other flaviviruses, such as the dengue virus," explained Rong Hai, Assistant Professor at the University of California - Riverside.

Furthermore, a potential binding site in the protein for an inhibitor was found, thereby providing a strong basis for developing potential inhibitors against ZIKV NS5 to suppress ZIKV infection.

The identification of this inhibitor-binding site can enable scientists to design potential potent drugs to fight ZIKV, the researchers noted.