Solving the Structure of Deadly Viruses. (Immunology)

USA TODAY, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Solving the Structure of Deadly Viruses. (Immunology)


Opening doors to the possibility of developing new vaccines and antiviral agents to fight a host of insect-borne diseases, scientists have, for the first time, determined the structure of a family of viruses known as flaviviruses. Researchers from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., working with scientists at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have solved the three-dimensional structure of the dengue virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes more than 50,000,000 cases of infection and 24,000 deaths worldwide each year. The findings provide the first detailed view of a flavivirus and offer structural information that can be used to unravel the processes that lead to viral infection.

The flavivirus family includes a number of dangerous insect-borne diseases such as dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, and tick-borne and St. Louis encephalitis. Together, these viruses cause millions of cases of human illness each year. Several from this family are among a select group that is being studied to counteract potential bioterrorist attacks.

The discovery may help scientists develop antiviral compounds and strategies to target dengue and other diseases caused by flaviviruses, indicates Richard Kuhn, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue, the lead author of the study. "This is an extremely important family of human pathogens, including West Nile, that is now present in the United States. By studying the structure of the virus, we can gain insights into the chemical and biological activity that occurs when the virus infects a human cell and develop experiments to identify and target those activities. …

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