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West Nile Virus capsid protein causes encephalitic inflammation by triggering cell suicide

(Philadelphia, PA) The protein that forms the protective capsid surrounding the West Nile virus genetic material may contribute to the deadly inflammation associated with the virus. West Nile virus, which has rapidly spread across the United States, causes neurological symptoms and encephalitis, which can result in paralysis or death. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the West Nile virus capsid (WNV-Cp) is a destructive protein that can trigger apoptosis the automatic self-destructive program within cells inside infected cells, possibly adding to the damage caused by the virus. Their findings are presented in the December issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site.

"Despite the fact that West Nile virus is a global health threat, we understand very little of the pathogenesis of the disease caused by this virus," said David Weiner, PhD, associate professor in Penn's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. "Since there is currently no specific treatment for West Nile virus, it is important to understand the biology of this virus to help us devise vaccines and new treatments for the West Nile virus infection."

According to the CDC, the West Nile virus has infected over 3700 people and killed over 200, mostly elderly, people since it was first introduced to the United States in 1999. The numbers of those infected, however, may be much higher since the disease often takes a mild form in healthy people who are less likely to seek treatment and the CDC numbers only count for those cases known to state medical agencies. The virus is spread primarily through its insect host, the mosquito, although it is now known to spread through mothers' breast milk and organ transplantations.

The Penn researchers first began studying WNV-Cp when they noticed a striking similarity between the gene that encodes for it and that of an HIV
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Contact: Greg Lester
lesterg@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
9-Dec-2002


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