Scientists in Japan have gained a better understanding how influenza viruses replicate, possibly opening the way for the development of drugs to hamper their reproduction.
In the latest issue of Nature, the researchers described how they zeroed in on an enzyme that flu viruses need to replicate, and managed to capture a snapshot of the enzyme.
Enzymes in influenza viruses are made up of three proteins bound tightly together.
“Scientists have been trying to study its (enzyme’s) structure and no one has yet got a detailed picture of the whole thing,” said Yokohama City University’s Jeremy Tame, a member of the research team.
But the team managed to crystallize the proteins and get a peek at part of the structure, which involves the tip of one of the proteins coming into contact with another protein.
“This gives us some hope that we can interrupt this interface (contact point),” Tame said.
Such an interruption would “kill the virus, or slow it down sufficiently”, he added.
All influenza A viruses, including the H5N1 bird flu virus, are believed to have similar structures. Theoretically, one drug could fight all of them.
“We would like to start work. We’re hopeful that will lead to efforts to work on completely novel drugs,” Tame said.