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UCLA scientists reveal how Nipah virus infects cells

UCLA scientists have discovered how the deadly Nipah virus infiltrates human cells to cause encephalitis. Designated as a potential bioterrorism agent by the National Biodefense Research Agenda, the virus exploits a protein essential to embryonic development to enter cells and launch its attack. The online edition of Nature reports the findings July 6.

"In its natural state, the Nipah virus can be used as a potential bioterrorism agent capable of devastating an entire country's public health and economy," said Dr. Benhur Lee, principal investigator and UCLA assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. "Now that we understand how the virus operates, we can develop vaccines and drugs to block Nipah from entering the cells. This will help prevent infection and halt outbreaks before they reach epidemic proportions."

Since 1998, the Nipah virus has triggered disease outbreaks in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Animals spread the virus to people, where it causes life-threatening respiratory and neurological diseases that kill up to 70 percent of patients a danger level equivalent to the Ebola virus.

To infect a cell, viruses must bind to a viral-specific receptor on the cell's surface in order to penetrate it. Lee's team identified a cell receptor called Ephrin-B2 as the key used by the Nipah virus to unlock the cells.

Located on brain cells and cells lining the blood vessels, Ephrin-B2 is critical to nervous system development and the growth of blood vessels in human and animal embryos. Ephrin-B2 is found in humans, horses, pigs and bats, which may explain why the infection can jump so easily from one species to another.

Collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania, the UCLA team applied tools of advanced molecular biology as well as old-fashioned detective work to track down the identity of the Ephrin-B2 receptor.

The researchers created a bait: they stitched
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Contact: Elaine Schmidt
eschmidt@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2272
University of California - Los Angeles
6-Jul-2005


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