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Solving the structure of deadly viruses. (Immunology).

Opening doors to the possibility of developing new vaccines and antiviral agents to fight a host of insect-borne diseases, scientists have, for the first time, determined the structure of a family of viruses known as flaviviruses. Researchers from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., working with scientists at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have solved the three-dimensional structure of the dengue virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes more than 50,000,000 cases of infection and 24,000 deaths worldwide each year. The findings provide the first detailed view of a flavivirus and offer structural information that can be used to unravel the processes that lead to viral infection.

The flavivirus family includes a number of dangerous insect-borne diseases such as dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, and tick-borne and St. Louis encephalitis. Together, these viruses cause millions of cases of human illness each year. Several from this family are among a select group that is being studied to counteract potential bioterrorist attacks.

The discovery may help scientists develop antiviral compounds and strategies to target dengue and other diseases caused by flaviviruses, indicates Richard Kuhn, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue, the lead author of the study. "This is an extremely important family of human pathogens, including West Nile, that is now present in the United States. By studying the structure of the virus, we can gain insights into the chemical and biological activity that occurs when the virus infects a human cell and develop experiments to identify and target those activities." Because all flaviviruses are closely related, he says that studying the structure of the dengue virus will reveal strategies that can be used to study other viruses in the family.

Dengue fever is a severe, flu-like illness that causes high fever, rash, and extreme pain in the head, muscles, and joints. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is a potentially lethal complication that can cause internal bleeding, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, and death. The dengue virus is transmitted to humans via the bites of infected mosquitoes and is most often found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.

Although vaccines have been developed for dengue, control of the virus by vaccination has proved to be elusive. The disease may be caused by any one of four different strains of the dengue virus, and vaccinating against only one or two of the viruses can increase the risk of more-serious forms of the disease.

Studies of the dengue structure were done using the techniques of cryo-electron microscopy and three-dimensional image reconstruction. These techniques--which use hundreds of highly detailed, two-dimensional images and powerful computer programs--allowed the group to develop a three-dimensional view of the virus.
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Title Annotation:flaviviruses research
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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