A Protein In The Body That Swallows Zika Virus Has Been Identified
Scientists have found a very small protein in our body that swallows and quarantines the Zika virus, dramatically reducing its ability to infect cells, an advance that may lead to new therapies to fight the infection linked to serious birth defects.
The findings, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) in the US, suggest that boosting the actions of the interferon-induced protein 3 (IFITM3) may be useful for inhibiting Zika virus and other emerging viral infections.
“Our results show that Zika virus has a weakness that we could potentially exploit to prevent or stop infection,” said Abraham Brass, assistant professor at UMMS.
Researchers developed a suite of genomic tools to probe how human cells respond to pathogens and how these invaders exploit host cell factors and proteins to replicate. The mosquito-transmitted Zika virus typically causes relatively mild symptoms in infected adults.
Found in nearly all human cells, IFITM3 works to alter the cell membrane, making it more difficult for viruses to penetrate this outer defense.
The Brass lab found that when IFITM3 levels are low, Zika virus can more readily infiltrate into the cell interior and cause infection.
Conversely, they discovered that when IFITM3 is abundant and on guard, it strongly prevents Zika virus from reaching the interior of the cell and so blocks its infection.
“In effect, we see that IFITM3 allows our cells to swallow up and quarantine the virus thereby stopping their own infection, and also the infection of neighbouring cells” said George Savidis, a research associate in the Brass lab.
“We think this also reduces the levels of cell death caused by Zika virus,” Savidis said.
“This work shows that IFITM3 acts as an early front line defender to prevent Zika virus from getting its hands on all of the resources in our cells that it needs to grow,” said Savidis.
The study appears in the journal Cell Reports.