Scientists from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and their international collaborators from Emory University, USA, and Sun Yat-sen University, China, have discovered how the Lassa virus, which causes Lassa fever, remains invisible to the human defence system and causes thousands of deaths each year. The research, which centred around the collection of X-ray data at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility, was published in Nature this week.
"The research hugely relies on the very close collaboration among my group, Dr. Yuying Liang and Dr. Hinh Ly groups at Emory University, and Dr. Wenjiang Wang group at Sun Yat-sen University. Our findings are really exciting and provide great potential for vaccine and drug development. In solving the structure of the Lassa virus NP protein, we have revealed its unexpected functions and shown the unique workings of viral replication and immune evasion. This totally unexpected knowledge will make designing a vaccine and drug treatments much easier. Trying to design a vaccine or drug without this kind of information is a bit like trying to make a chair cover when the chair’s shape is a total unknown, in all likelihood it won't fit, or do its job properly. By understanding how virus proteins attack the body at the molecular level, we stand a much better chance of designing a vaccine or drug whose shape and function will successfully block the virus from developing into the acute viral illness."
Dr Changjiang Dong, Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow, group leader for the research project at University of St. Andrews
Cap binding and immune evasion revealed by Lassa nucleoprotein structure
Xiaoxuan Qi, Shuiyun Lan, Wenjian Wang, Lisa McLay Schelde, Haohao Dong, Gregor D. Wallat, Hinh Ly, Yuying Liang & Changjiang Dong, Nature November 2010.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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