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Scientists discover clue to contain Lassa virus infection

New York, July 22 (IANS) US researchers have identified the role of a protein that plays a critical role in the progression of Lassa fever, majorly seen in West Africa.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness, similar to Ebola, that infects people through exposure to food or other items that have been contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats.

Although, it can have a mortality rate of 15 per cent in severe cases, up to 90 per cent in pregnant women, and cause deafness in a quarter of survivors, there is no vaccine or antiviral to protect against Lassa virus.

To save lives, scientists at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) and Scripps Research are working to understand exactly how the Lassa virus replicates within human hosts.

In a new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers show how a critical Lassa virus protein, called polymerase, drives infection by harnessing a cellular protein in human hosts.

Their findings suggest future therapies could target this interaction to treat patients.

“There is no antiviral drug that specifically targets Lassa virus,” explains first author Jingru Fang, a joint LJI and Scripps Research graduate student.

“That’s why it’s important for researchers to identify potential druggable targets on this virus to combat infection.”

Lassa virus encodes only four viral proteins. One of them, the polymerase, directs the process of virus genome replication and gene expression to produce the materials, the virus spreads to new host cells. If one can stop virus polymerase, one can stop infection.

The researchers led the hunt for host cellular proteins that may act as Lassa polymerase’s partners in crime.

Among a total of 42 host proteins that interact with Lassa polymerase, the team focused on one druggable target: GSPT1. The team showed that GSPT1 is physically and functionally linked to Lassa virus polymerase and can facilitate Lassa virus infection.

This study is the first to uncover molecular cross-talks between Lassa virus polymerase and cellular proteins. However, it is the second-ever time the host protein GSPT1 has been linked to virus infection.

“If we could find a way to either disrupt the link between GSPT1 and Lassa polymerase, or if we could simply remove GSPT1 protein, we could stop Lassa virus infection,” said Fang.

–IANS

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