Researchers from Purdue University takes a leap on understanding how ZIka virus infects host cells and spreads by investigating the structure of immature Zika virus. Their findings might also be useful in providing information for developing effective treatment and vaccines.
Primarily, Zika is spread by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. However, the virus can also be transmitted from a mother to an unborn child during pregnancy and through blood transmission or sexual intercourse with a person infected with the virus.
Only the mature form of the virus is considered infectious, but the virus secreted from host cells also include partially mature and immature virus particles. Researchers believes the immature form of Zika is involved in the virus infection and spread.
In a study published in the journal, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, on Monday, Jan. 9. Researchers used cryo-electron microscopy to reconstruct the structure of an immature Zika virus. This provides an image which has thousand times better resolution than the standard light microscope.
The researchers learned that the capsid protein is located on the internal side of the lipid membrane, which is important in the recognizing its role in virus assembly. They also learned the difference between the mature and immature virus. The immature Zika virus contains partially ordered capsid protein shell which is less seen in other immature flaviviruses like those of dengue and yellow fever.
"We see clear differences between the structure of the immature virus and the mature virus. Not only are there differences in the outer structure, but the inner core must also undergo some significant changes during maturation. We need to study what these changes are and why they occur," said Richard Kuhn, researcher and professors in Purdue's Department of Biological Sciences said in a press release by Purdue University. He added that this findings could lead to new discoveries in the assembly process of Zika virus.