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Scientists learn more about how viruses reproduce, spread

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Biochemists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have made a surprising discovery about the inner workings of a powerful virus a discovery that they hope could one day lead to better vaccines or anti-virus medications.

Reporting in the April issue of the Journal of Virology, the researchers have identified a protein that plays an important role in the ability of the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) to invade healthy cells and reproduce itself. The finding could play a role in vaccine development and also help scientists develop anti-viral agents to stop similar viruses in their tracks.

Although VSV infects animals, it is not a human pathogen. Nevertheless, scientists study it because of its similarity to viruses such as Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fever viruses, as well as rabies virus. "VSV is a good model of a variety of other viruses," said John Connor, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of biochemistry. "Our research has given us a better understanding of how viruses like these are able to do the nasty things they do."

The scientists set out to study the role of a protein known as "matrix," which is produced by VSV. They suspected matrix was important in how VSV is assembled, but unexpectedly discovered the matrix protein is critical in how the virus reproduces and spreads. When they altered the matrix protein, they weakened the virus' ability to reproduce. The finding has several important implications, Connor said.

Normally, VSV is extremely powerful, with the ability to shut down a cell's system for making proteins. VSV then takes over the cell's protein-making machinery and makes its own proteins so it can replicate and spread. The scientists were able to weaken this power by altering the matrix protein, so that VSV cannot make as much protein and does not reproduce as well.

Weakened viruses such as this are often used to make vaccines because they are less likely to be harmful. Curr
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6-Apr-2006


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