Potential Drug Target Identified for Flaviviruses Such as Zika, Dengue, and West Nile

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A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy.
A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy.

HealthDay News — A potential way to prevent Zika and similar viruses from spreading in the body has been identified, according to research published online in Nature.

"We wanted to find out if we could identify genes present in the host cells that are absolutely required by the virus for infection," senior author Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.

Diamond's team pinpointed a gene pathway that is vital for Zika and related viruses to spread infection between cells. They found that shutting down a single gene in this pathway prevents these viruses from leaving an infected cell. The discovery suggests a potential target for new drugs to fight Zika and other flaviviruses such as dengue and West Nile.

"Out of about 19,000 genes that we looked at, we only found 9 key genes that the virus relies on for infection or to spread," Diamond said. "All of [the 9] are associated with an important part of the cell that processes viral particles, which is essential to spreading the infection." Of those nine genes, disabling one called SPCS1 reduced viral infection but appeared to have no harmful effects on human cells.

Reference

Zhang R, Miner JJ, Gorman MJ, et al. A CRISPR screen defines a signal peptide processing pathway required by flaviviruses. Nature. 2016. doi: 10.1038/nature18625.

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