A new approach to the treatment of all types of herpes has emerged, which gives hope for the development of an effective drug. Researchers at Lund University (Sweden) have found that by targeting the physical properties of the viral genome rather than the viral proteins used in the conventional method, genes are prevented from leaving the virus to infect cells through penetration of the virus’ protein envelope. Their results were published in PLOS Pathogens.
A new approach targeting the physical properties of the virus
Infections caused by herpes viruses are a major challenge for which there is no cure at the moment. These infections last a lifetime and alternate with latency and reactivation periods. Recently, researchers have been able to explain this activation and deactivation mechanism, which is a function of the degree of concentration of the virus in the chromatin structure, which results from the ability of cells to block viral DNA. If the cells are able to block the viral DNA, the herpes virus goes into sleep mode, but if they do not, the particles of the virus activate their genes and replicate to trigger an outbreak. All current antiviral therapies lead to the rapid development of resistance in patients with weakened immune systems, where there is a significant need for herpes treatment.
The course of infection is determined by molecular and physical properties, but so far only molecular properties have attracted the attention of researchers. “We have a new and unique approach to the study of viruses based on their specific physical properties,” says Alex Evilevitch, professor at Lund University and principal investigator of the study. Our discovery represents a breakthrough in the development of antiviral drugs because it does not target specific viral proteins, which can rapidly mutilate and cause the development of drug resistance. We hope our research will contribute to the fight against previously incurable viral infections.
Four times the pressure of a champagne bottle.
The researchers’ goal was to reduce the internal pressure of the herpes virus, which contributes to cell infection. Inside the virus, there is a protein envelope related to the genome – where the pressure is high – because it is well filled with genetic material. “The pressure is four times higher than in a champagne bottle, and this allows herpes viruses to infect a cell by ejecting their genes to the nucleus at high speed after the virus has entered the cell,” reports Evilevitch. The cell is then deceived and becomes a small virus factory, producing new viruses that can infect and kill other cells in the tissue, leading to different disease states.
The aim was to identify small molecules capable of penetrating the virus and deactivating pressure in the virus genome without damaging the cell. The results showed that this treatment has a much higher antiviral effect than the standard treatment and even prevents viral infection. “The drugs available today to fight viral infections are highly specialized against viral proteins,” said the researcher. If the virus mutates, the medications become ineffective. If you can develop a treatment that attacks the physical properties of the virus, for example by reducing the pressure within the envelope of the herpes virus, it should be possible to fight many different types of viral infections within the same virus family with the same drug”.
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