A significant advance has been made in the understanding of how viruses such as hepatitis C cause infection, according to a study reported in the January 22 issue of Nature.
"Infectious disease is a moving target and understanding the mechanism of viral entry is one of the ways that we can be forearmed against these viruses," said lead researcher Stephen Harrison, of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Children's Hospital Boston.
The researchers visually detailed the final steps by which a family of viruses responsible for causing hepatitis C and a host of other infectious diseases enter and infect cells. These viruses are known as enveloped viruses because of their fatty outer membrane. They fuse their envelope or membrane with that of the cell being attacked.
Membrane fusion opens the way for the virus to release its genes into the interior of the cell, allowing the virus to reproduce and infection to spread, according to the researchers.
"The better we understand membrane fusion, the more flexibly we can think about it as a therapeutic target," said Harrison.
Researcher Yorgo Modis, a structural biologist at Children's Hospital, said the study yields promising drug or vaccine targets for inhibiting viral entry.
Other sources: Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School