Scientists from Indiana University have cracked the full structure of a key protein in Zika virus, spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito.
This development may lead to a better understanding of how the deadly virus replicates itself as well as to potential treatments.
Cheng Kao, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, has mapped a key protein that causes the virus to reproduce and spread.
The protein Zika virus (ZIKV) NS5 helps in the genomic replication process of the virus and this unique function may make it an ideal target for anti-viral drug development, the study said.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers determined the crystal structure of the entire ZIKV NS5 protein and demonstrated that NS5 is functional when purified in vitro.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 1 million people in 52 countries and territories in the Americas have been infected with the Zika virus since 2015.
The disease has also been confirmed to cause microcephaly in more than 2,700 infants born to women infected with the virus while pregnant.
Symptoms include neurological disorders and a head that is significantly smaller than normal.
The virus is also transmissible through sexual activity and can trigger an autoimmune disease in adults called Guillain-Barre syndrome.