Researchers gain insight into protein critical to Zika virus reproduction

April 10, 2017 by Jon Weiner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The structure of the Zika virus protein NS5, which is key to the reproduction and spread of the virus. Credit: Cheng Kao, Indiana University

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infectious disease linked to certain birth defects in infants in South and Central America and the United States. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researcher, Banumathi Sankaran, worked as part of a multi-institutional team to map a key viral protein called NS5. Necessary to virus reproduction, NS5 contains two enzyme activities: one reduces the body's ability to mount an immune response against infection and the other helps start the genetic replication process. The work was led by Indiana University's Cheng Kao and Pingwei Li at Texas A&M University (TAMU).

In a study published March 27 in Nature Communications, the team described the structure and function of these two enzyme active sites. They also showed comparisons between this protein and those from other related viruses that cause dengue fever, West Nile , Japanese encephalitis virus, and hepatitis C. These comparisons will help researchers as they search for possible compounds to halt the ability of the virus to reproduce.

Working with researchers from TAMU, Sankaran, a research scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division at Berkeley Lab, used X-ray crystallography to solve the atomic structure of NS5 in the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology at the Advanced Light Source (ALS). "The ALS was critical to the success of this project," said Li. "The powerful beam and the sensitive detector on beamline 5.0.2 made it possible for us to obtain data on our poor quality crystals."

Sankaran is in charge of the Collaborative Crystallography (CC) program at the ALS. Funded by the NIH, this program is a fast, reliable and transparent mail-in crystallographic service for the community. Since the mosquitos carrying the vector have been spreading into the Southern U.S., interest in studying the virus has increased and TAMU's Li indicated that several groups currently are working on similar structural determination efforts. "Having access to state-of-the-art facilities provided by our Collaborative Crystallography program resulted in a rapid turnaround of this project," according to Sankaran.

While the researchers have gathered a lot of information about how to target this protein, there are still puzzles remaining. "One of the most important unresolved questions about Zika NS5 is how it catalyzes the synthesis of RNA," said Li. "We look forward to further studies and future collaborations, which will be invaluable for therapeutics discovery."

Explore further: Zika virus protein mapped to speed search for cure

Related Stories

Zika virus protein mapped to speed search for cure

March 27, 2017

A study published today shows how Indiana University scientists are speeding the path to new treatments for the Zika virus, an infectious disease linked to birth defects in infants in South and Central America and the United ...

Researchers crack structure of key protein in Zika virus

March 27, 2017

Zika virus (ZIKV), which causes Zika virus disease, is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito. An infected pregnant woman can pass ZIKV to her fetus during pregnancy ...

Researchers solve the structure of the Zika virus helicase

May 20, 2016

A team led by researchers from Tianjin University (P.R. China) has solved the structure of the Zika virus helicase, which is a key target for antiviral development. The research is published in Springer's journal Protein ...

Recommended for you

Why bioelectrodes for energy conversion are not stable

May 25, 2018

Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered why bioelectrodes containing the photosynthesis protein complex photosystem I are not stable in the long term. Such electrodes could be useful for converting light ...

Simulations show how beta-amyloid may kill neural cells

May 25, 2018

Beta-amyloid peptides, protein fragments that form naturally in the brain and clump into plaques in Alzheimer's disease patients, are thought to be responsible for neuron death, but it hasn't been clear how the substances ...

The changing shape of DNA

May 24, 2018

The shape of DNA can be changed with a range of triggers including copper and oxygen—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.