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Potential Henipavirus Drug Target Identified


Scientists have identified a screening method for the genes that are essential for live henipavirus infection of human cells. This research has identified a specific cell protein called fibrillarin. This protein could be a target for drugs against henipaviruses, and could help people who have contracted this virus.

In various countries, particularly the U.S., henipavirus outbreaks are on the rise. The primary means of infection is via human contact with fruit bats (Pteropus species). There are three established virus species: Hendra virus, Nipah virus and Cedar virus.

To find probable mechanisms, scientists examined the viral life cycle. It was discovered that the ability of the virus to replicate was blocked by interfering with fibrillarin function. It was found fibrillarin is needed for the early synthesis of viral RNA.

Infection can be fatal; and symptoms include fever, vomiting, headache, dizziness and loss of consciousness. To add to this, there can be a rise in heart rates or blood pressure, kidney impairment, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, septicemia, and convulsions.

Further studies found that by mutating the catalytic activity of fibrillarin inhibits henipavirus infection. This suggests that this enzyme, which occurs in people, could be targeted therapeutically to combat henipavirus infections. Cell-based laboratory tests further suggest this is possible.

The research is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. The research is titled “Genome-wide siRNA Screening at Biosafety Level 4 Reveals a Crucial Role for Fibrillarin in Henipavirus Infection.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.