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Clients in the News – University of Texas discovers possible new target to attack flu virus identified

This region of the NS1 viral protein binds the host protein DDX21, making it a potential target for new antivirals against the influenza virusBetter antiviral drugs could help the millions of people annually infected by flu, which kills up to 500,000 people each year. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Texas at Austin

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a protein produced by the influenza A virus helps it outwit one of our body’s natural defense mechanisms. That makes the protein a potentially good target for antiviral drugs directed against the influenza A virus.

When an influenza virus infects a human cell, it uses some of the host’s cellular machinery to make copies of itself, or replicate. In this study, the researchers discovered that a protein produced by human body cells, DDX21, blocks this replication process. They also discovered that a protein created by the virus, NS1, in turn blocks DDX21 and promotes viral replication.

“If you could figure out how to stop NS1 from binding to DDX21, you could stop the virus cold,” said Robert Krug, a professor in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and corresponding author on the study, which appears today in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.

Krug said that in addition to countering the body’s defense mechanisms, the viral NS1 protein actually performs other important roles for the virus, such as inhibiting the host’s synthesis of interferon, a key antiviral protein.

“It means that if you could block that NS1 function, you’d be blocking not only its interaction with DDX21 but many other important functions, so it’s a great target,” said Krug.

The need for new antiviral drugs against the influenza virus is great. Because flu vaccines are not 100 percent effective, antiviral drugs play an important role in fast-spreading epidemics. Yet influenza A viruses are developing resistance to antiviral drugs currently in use.

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