Scripps scientists capture first ever detailed photo of HCV protein

Scripps Research Institute scientists recently captured the first detailed image of a crucial part of the hepatitis C virus, which may lead to the development of more effective drugs against hepatitis C infection.

The findings of the study were published in Friday's issue of the Science journal. The research team was able to capture a high resolution image of the E2 envelope glycoprotein, the protein responsible for infecting liver cells.

"We're excited by this development," Hansen Professor of Structural Biology at TSRI and Senior Author of the study Ian A. Wilson said. "It has been very hard to get a high resolution structure of E2 and it took years of painstaking work to finally accomplish that."

The scientists discovered the structure of the E2 protein is different than what was widely assumed, opening the door for new and more effective vaccines against the virus.

"It had been thought that HCV's E2 belongs to a family of viral fusion proteins called class 2 fusion proteins, which includes envelope proteins for West Nile and dengue viruses, for example," Leopold Kong, the lead author of the study, said. "But we showed that E2 is structurally distinct and probably works differently than what had been widely assumed."

The research team will next begin the development of a HCV vaccine using the data it gathered.

"It took our team six years to crack this very difficult scientific problem, but we didn't give up," Mansun Law, a researcher on the study, said. "Now that we can visualize the structural details of these binding sites, we can design vaccine molecules that mimic them."