Team looks for weak spots in structure of Zika virus

Overall, the findings suggest that antibodies or drugs that destabilize the structure of the Zika virus may help to reduce the severity of the disease or limit the spread of the virus. (Credit: Duke-NUS Medical School)

Scientists have reconstructed a high-resolution image of the structure of the Zika virus to identify potential sites to target with therapeutics.

The structure shows the overall virus architecture is similar to other flaviviruses such as the West Nile and dengue viruses. However, the team found the Zika virus is more thermally stable than the dengue virus, and is also structurally stable even when incubated at 40 degrees Celsius, mimicking the body temperature of extremely feverish patients after virus infection.

They’ve also discovered the Zika virus surface proteins have tighter interactions compared to the dengue virus, making it more stable than the dengue virus.

They detail the findings in a paper published in Nature.

The structure may explain its ability to survive in harsh conditions such as semen, saliva, and urine, as well as its unique ability to transmit through sexual contact.

[Mice with Zika have highest levels in testicles]

Overall, the findings suggest antibodies or drugs that destabilize the structure of the Zika virus may help to reduce the severity of the disease or limit the spread.

“This is exciting, as our structure will provide important clues to other researchers around the world who are working to find therapeutic agents against the Zika virus,” says Shee-Mei Lok, an assistant professor in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School.

“Additionally, we have shown that the Zika virus contains structures that are unique from the viruses in the same family that affect brains, such as the West Nile virus, and also those that cause fever, such as the dengue virus,” says Lok. “These structures can be mutated to better understand how they influence the Zika virus infection in humans and can also potentially lead to the development of a safe vaccine that has reduced side effects.”

The next step is to understand the effect of potent antibodies on the Zika virus. By examining the structure presented in this study, Lok’s team will try to determine how the antibodies could be used to kill the virus.

They also hope to identify which potent antibodies could be used to treat people in emergency situations, such as a sudden outbreak or in the case of infection during pregnancy.

The National Research Foundation of Singapore, the Singapore Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund, and the Singapore Ministry of Health helped support the work.

Source: Duke University/National University of Singapore