- The Epstein Barr virus portal structure as found at eBIC
In 2018, we brought you the news that high-resolution cryo-EM at eBIC had uncovered new information about a critical feature of the Herpes Simplex Virus
. Cryo-EM has now worked its magic on the related Epstein-Barr virus, paving the way towards ways to defeat this untreatable virus.
The herpesvirus family is enormous and includes eight human pathogens. The Epstein-Barr virus infects B-cells (a type of white blood cell) and also the epithelial cells that make up skin and also line the inside of the throat, blood vessels and organs. It causes glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis) and can cause several kinds of cancer and autoimmune diseases.
All herpesviruses infect in a similar way. Once the virus has entered a cell and reached the nucleus, it releases its DNA. This DNA can lie dormant for many years until specific conditions trigger replication. When the virus replicates, the DNA is introduced into a new viral shell (capsid), forming a new virus capable of attacking other cells. The virus uses a protein called a portal for packaging its DNA into the viral capsid and to release it to the host cell during infection. As the portal plays a critical role in replication and infection, it makes an attractive target for the development of new anti-viral drugs.