Researchers Take Major Step Toward Cracking Ebola Code

ANN ARBOR---Ebola is an extremely lethal virus that has frustrated the medical world's attempts to learn how it works. Now, researchers are gaining valuable insight into how Ebola wreaks its deadly havoc.

Investigators from the University of Michigan Medical School, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Ebola works by waging a war on two fronts. Their results are published in the Feb. 13 issue of the journal Science.

Ebola virus causes a rapidly progressing, often fatal, infection that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, rash, high fever, hemorrhaging and shock. Often, liver and kidney functions are impaired.

The research team, led by Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine and biological chemistry at the U-M Health System and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, reports that the virus employs a glycoprotein (a protein with sugar attached) in two different ways to disable the immune response and attack certain cells.

Study results show the glycoprotein, secreted by the virus, appears to interfere with the inflammatory response that is used at a cellular level to fight off the virus. Another form of this glycoprotein stays bound to the Ebola virus and attaches itself to endothelial cells which line blood vessels, likely causing the hemorrhaging characteristic of Ebola.

This particular glycoprotein was found in Ebola virus by investigators at the CDC nearly 20 years ago, but its role in Ebola's cellular invasion remained a mystery.

Nabel and his team, tracked the glycoprotein in two ways. The secreted glycoprotein was detected by its ability to bind to cells, using an antibody to this viral gene product. The binding characteristic of the transmembrane (or virus-bound) form of the protein was detected by using a technique of molecular genetics to insert this protein o

Contact: Pete Barkey
(313) 764-2220
University of Michigan

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