Ebola virus transmission could be reduced by newly discovered protein

Ebola virus transmission could be reduced by newly discovered protein
© iStock/harry1978

According to Northwestern University, USA, a human protein that helps fight Ebola virus transmission could one day lead to an effective therapy.

Drugs that mimic the function of the human protein, RBBP6, helps fight Ebola virus transmission by interfering with the virus replication cycle. As when RBBP6 is removed from human cells, Ebola virus replicates much faster.

Blocking Ebola virus transmission and infection

The newly discovered ability of the human protein RBBP6 to interfere with the virus replication suggests new ways to combat Ebola virus transmission. As viruses develop and evolve proteins to bypass the body’s immune defences, human cells in turn develop defence mechanisms against such viruses.

Hultquist, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine explains: “One of the scariest parts about the 2014 Ebola outbreak was that we had no treatments on hand; tens of thousands of people became sick and thousands of people died because we lacked a suitable treatment.”

“What we envision is a small molecule drug that mimics this human protein and could be used in response to an Ebola virus outbreak.”

A small molecule drug is the goal as these would be able to enter cells more easily and, therefore, be more effective.

What do you know about Ebola?

The Ebola virus, like other viruses, invades host cells and uses them to replicate, usurping cellular processes to build viral proteins, which eventually become new copies of the virus. In the current study, Hultquist and his collaborators used mass spectrometry – a technique that identifies specific elements in a sample by mass – to search for interactions between human proteins and Ebola virus proteins. They found strong evidence for an interaction between the Ebola virus protein VP30 and the human protein RBBP6.

Further structural and computational analysis narrowed the interaction down to a small, 23-amino acid-long peptide chain. This small group of amino acids alone is sufficient to disrupt the Ebola virus life cycle, Hultquist said.

“If you take that peptide and put it into human cells, you can block Ebola virus infection,” Hultquist said. “Conversely, when you remove the RBBP6 protein from human cells, Ebola virus replicates much faster.”

We need to be ready to tackle viruses

Emerging diseases will impact new regions as the world continues to become more interconnected and globalized, moreover until recently, many diseases in the developing world, including the Ebola virus, have been comparatively understudied.

Hultquist concludes: “It wasn’t until the outbreak of 2014 that other countries started seriously worrying about the potential for a larger epidemic.”

“It’s no longer going to be a local problem that people can afford to ignore. We should be taking a much more proactive stance against some of these neglected viruses and be studying them in real time – so the next time an outbreak does occur, we’re ready for it.”

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