US scientists identify ‘weak spot’ in Zika virus proteins


Scientists at the University of California have identified a ‘weak spot’ in one of the Zika virus proteins after securing funds from non-profit organisation March of Dimes.

The spot may provide a target for new drugs to fight the disease.

University of California biochemistry assistant professor Dr Jikui Song and his team studied the structure and function of the Zika protein non-structural protein 5 (NS5).

NS5 is one of just ten proteins that make up the Zika virus particle and is crucial to the life cycle of Zika, helping the virus replicate itself.

The protein also helps the virus evade the host immune system.

Song and colleagues described the 3D structure of the entire NS5 protein and provided new insight into the way it functions.

"NS5 is one of just ten proteins that make up the Zika virus particle and is crucial to the life cycle of Zika, helping the virus replicate itself."

They identified a potential binding site in the protein for an inhibitor, which could lead to the development of the first drugs to suppress Zika infection.

March of Dimes research and global programmes senior vice-president Joe Leigh Simpson said: “This is an important finding that could be a first step toward treating the Zika virus, an infection that is very dangerous to pregnant women and babies, and for which we currently have no treatment or vaccine.”

Zika virus infection at the time of pregnancy can cause damage to the brain and has also been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth.

The team’s next step is to investigate the anti-viral potential against Zika of a chemical compound that was previously proved to work against the dengue virus.


Image: Digitally colourised transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus. Photo: courtesy of CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith.