MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2018

Researchers discover how Dengue and WNV replicate

A research team from the University of Michigan and Purdue University recently discovered how the Dengue fever and West Nile Virus replicate, which may lay the foundation for the development of effective vaccines.

The team of scientists, led by U-M Life Sciences Institute researcher Janet Smith, discovered how both Dengue and West Nile viruses replicate in host cells and compromise the host's immune system. The process is led by a NS1 protein, which can theoretically be used as a basis for the development of the first vaccines against dengue fever and WNV infections.

"Having the structure of NS1 is a huge advance in understanding, and using, the protein to our advantage," Richard Kuhn, who led the Purdue team, said. "Understanding how the protein is designed provides an easier pathway to understanding its roles in the virus life cycle. We now know which portions of the protein to target in drug development to shut it down and stop the progression of infection."

While the new discovery opens the door to vaccine development, the development of a vaccine against dengue fever faces more challenges. There are four strains of the dengue virus. When a person is infected once they usually experience flu-like symptoms; the second infection can lead to death.

"We don't want to prime people for severe dengue disease by delivering their first exposure to the virus in the form of a vaccine," Smith said.

The research team will continue its studies to further understand the dengue and West Nile viruses in pursuit of developing the first viable vaccines against infections.

"We're now collaborating with the Purdue virologists to understand exactly how the two faces of NS1 help the virus survive and thrive in patients," Smith said. "These studies are the next steps toward a vaccine or an antiviral drug."