SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2016

Researchers find burglary-ring-like mechanism in Nipah virus

A team of Washington State University researchers determined that the deadly Nipah virus uses burglary-ring-like teamwork to invade human cells, according to a study recently published in PLOS Pathogens.

The researchers found that two proteins on the surface of the Nipah virus communicate in a way similar to two burglars. One protein works similarly to a burglar casing the human cells while the other protein waits for a signal to launch the cellular break-in.

"Our study provides the most complete picture of what happens after Nipah virus attaches itself to the surface of the human cell to gain entry," Hector Aguilar-Carreno, the study's leader, said. "This is important not only to our understanding of how Nipah is transmitted, but also for viruses of the same family that can cause serious human and animal diseases."

Aguilar-Carreno and his colleagues worked with harmless Nipah microbes and found that two proteins act as forward scouts. Protein G senses an opportunity to activate the infection and signals protein F to begin the fusion process.

"The virus is able to fuse its own membrane with the membrane of a healthy cell and then invade with its RNA," Aguilar-Carreno said. "Once inside its cell host, Nipah multiplies by the thousands and the infection process begins."

The Nipah virus was first identified 14 years ago during an epidemic in Malaysia. The virus causes flu-like symptoms and convulsions due to swelling of the brain. The virus has a high mortality rate and killed 21 of 24 individuals diagnosed during a 2013 outbreak in Bangladesh.

"Our study reveals the intricate steps that one Nipah virus undertakes in order to enter a 10,000-times-larger healthy cell," Aguilar-Carreno said. "The more we understand about Nipah's molecular mechanics, the more likely scientists can develop a drug to block it from infecting."