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Cracking a virus protection shield

Ebola, measles and rabies are serious threats to public health in developing countries. Despite different symptoms all of the diseases are caused by the same class of viruses that unlike most other living beings carry their genetic information on a single RNA molecule instead of a double strand of DNA. Now researchers from the Institut de Virologie Molculaire et Structurale (IVMS) and the Outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble have obtained a detailed structural picture of a protein that allows the rabies virus to withstand the human immune response and survive and replicate in our cells. The study that is published in this week's online edition of Science suggests new potential drug targets in rabies and sheds light on how similar approaches can help fighting other viral diseases.

When the rabies virus enters a human cell through the membrane, the RNA molecule that carries its genes is transported into the centre of the cell. Here it redirects the cellular machinery of the host to produce many new copies of the virus that go on to infect more cells. One molecule that is crucial in this process is a viral protein called nucleoprotein. The protein ensures that on its way through the cell the virus RNA is not destroyed by the immune response of the host.

"Nucleoprotein is vital for the rabies virus," says Rob Ruigrok, Head of the IVMS. "It is one of the few proteins that the virus brings into the host cell and it wraps around the RNA like a protection shield. Without this shield the RNA would be degraded by the enzymes of the human immune system that try to eliminate the invader."

To investigate how exactly this protection shield works, Aurlie Albertini from Ruigrok's team obtained crystals of nucleoprotein bound to RNA. Examining the crystals with high-intensity X-ray sources at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), Amy Wernimont from Winfried Weissenhorn's group at EMBL Grenoble produced a hi
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Contact: Anna-Lynn Wegener
wegener@embl.de
49-622-138-7452
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
16-Jun-2006


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