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Unraveling The Structure Of Herpes

Researchers in the U.S. are on the trail of something big: they are nearing an understanding of just how the herpes simplex virus manages to enter cells. Such a finding would be a boon in the search for a drug that can cure or at least battle the virus. Scientists representing Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered the unique structure of an important facet of the proteins that allow the virus to invade human cells.

New Map

As a result, a new map has been created that details a crucial component in the herpes virus cell-entry mechanism. This gives researchers a brand new focus in developing improved antiviral medications. This study was published in the online journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

The researchers employed X-ray crystallography and cell microscopy in order to analyze the structure and the workings of the cell-entry protein fusion events enacted by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). This research has generated a map detailing this important protein complex that is necessary to trigger infection with the herpes virus. The map paves the way toward new therapies that may block the virus from entering cells.

The majority of viruses depend on cell-entry proteins known as fusogens to help them enter cells. Scientists knew that in the case of the herpes virus, the fusogen requires a complex including two more viral cell-entry proteins. In the course of the new study, the scientists were able to identify the structure of this complex and saw that it didn't resemble the structures of any other fusogen known to science.

As a result of this work, the researchers came to the conclusion that the protein complex seen with herpes simplex is not an actual fusogen, but rather a mechanism that serves to regulate the fusogen. The researchers also found that some antibodies can block the protein complex from binding to the fusogen. This is the evidence that suggests an antiviral drug, created to target this specific interaction, might very well prevent a herpes infection. This is according to Ekaterina Heldwein, who is an assistant professor of molecular and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Crucial Component

Lead author of the study, a postdoctoral associate at Tufts by the name of Tirumala K. Chowdary, explains that by determining the actual structure of this crucial component of the herpes virus cell-entry machinery, scientists will be able to answer a number of questions about the ways in which the herpes virus first initiates infection.