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Discovery could lead to better control of hemorrhagic fever viruses

Researchers report discovering the receptor through which a group of life-threatening hemorrhagic fever viruses enter and attack the body's cells, and show that infection can be inhibited by blocking this receptor. The findings, to be published online by the journal Nature on February 7, give a clue to the high lethality of New World arenaviruses, suggest a way of reducing the severity of infection, and point the way toward a sorely needed treatment strategy.

The four viruses, known as the Machupo, Guanarito, Junin and Sabia viruses, cause Bolivian, Venezuelan, Argentine and Brazilian hemorrhagic fever, respectively, with mortality rates of about 30 percent. No vaccine is available, though a weakened form of Junin virus has been given to Argentinean farmers with some success. In addition to causing occasional disease outbreaks, mostly in poor, rural areas of South America, the viruses are of U.S. government interest because of their potential as bioterrorism agents. All four are classified as NIAID Category A Priority Pathogens and must be handled in Biosafety Level 4 containment facilities.

The researchers, led by Hyeryun Choe, PhD, of Children's Hospital Boston's Pulmonary Division, and Michael Farzan, PhD, of Harvard Medical School (HMS), first investigated the Machupo virus. To identify its cellular receptor, they made copies of the "spike" protein, used by the virus to gain entry into cells, and added it to cells from African green monkeys, known to be highly susceptible to Machupo virus infection. Later, they broke the cells open and isolated the spike protein and the cellular protein to which it had attached itself. Then, using a technique called mass spectrometry, they analyzed this attached cellular protein to determine its identity.

The receptor, identified in Choe's lab by Jonathan Abraham, PhD, an MD-PhD student at HMS, turned out to be transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1), a well-known protein that is key in enabling cells t
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Contact: Rachel Pugh
rachel.pugh@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
7-Feb-2007


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