Chinese researchers have learned how the Zika virus protein alters the host cell to help in its replication process. The study, which was published in the Journal of Cell Biology, notes the viral protein – NS1 – changes the inner cellular compartment known as endoplasmic reticulum into a protected area that allows the virus to survive and multiply.
If scientists were able to block the process, it could become a groundbreaking therapeutic strategy to treat people who are infected with Zika and other pathogens with a similar makeup.
In the majority of cases, the Zika virus causes mild symptoms, but pregnant women infected with it could have babies that suffer from birth defects. They may even experience fetal death. When the virus enters the host cell, it alters its ER to cause a membrane-bound section to bend inward and create minute pockets where the virus can duplicate itself without the immune defense knowing it.
Lei Shi is a researcher with the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and School of Basic Medicine at Beijing’s Peking Union Medical College. According to Shi, the foundation of the viral duplication is widely known, but how it revamps the ER is still a mystery.
Shi and his colleagues discovered the revamping process is the result of the NS1 that builds up in the ER of infected cells. They then learned that the NS1 injects itself into the ER membrane, which causes it to fold onto itself and lead to the replication process. When they kept the NS1 from getting into the ER membrane, the protein could not revamp it, and replication wasn’t possible.
Shi, along with Wei-Yang from the Institute of Pathogen Biology and Cheng-Feng Qin from the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, noted that NS1-induced ER revamping is necessary for the virus to replicate. When it’s not there, the virus cannot reproduce itself.
Many viruses have a similar replication process as ZIka, which means using this method to stop the replication method may lead to a new way in which to treat Zika, dengue, West Nile and Yellow Fever.