Scientists from the AGH University of Science and Technology and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków are conducting research that will help better understand the process of Zika virus infection and contribute to the development of effective antiviral therapies.

The Zika virus usually causes only mild symptoms in adults, but some patients may develop severe neurological symptoms. The consequences for pregnant women are much more serious. Serious damage to the nervous system may occur in the developing body of the child and lead to microcephaly and permanent disability. Children may have problems with eyesight, joints and hearing. Despite numerous studies of the virus, scientists have not yet understood the exact mechanism of its action, nor have they found reliable therapeutic strategies.

Scientists from the AGH University of Science and Technology and the Jagiellonian University want to help develop an effective antiviral therapy. Their research focuses on a thorough analysis of the NS3 protease – one of the Zika virus enzymes.

Researchers are trying to figure out how the virus used this enzyme to control healthy cells, and on which cellular proteins it acts. They are also attempting to determine how the functioning of the affected cells changes. Specialists from the Jagiellonian University produce an artificial copy of the enzyme, and scientists from the AGH University of Science and Technology check how proteins are digested.

Dr. Krzysztof Pyrć from the Laboratory of Virology is responsible for the project on behalf of the Jagiellonian University, and Dr. Piotr Suder from the Department of Biochemistry of Neurobiology represents the AGH UST.

Dr. Piotr Suder told PAP that researchers would prepare the first summaries of their research in about a year. The project, financed by the National Science Centre, will be completed in two years.

“We may be able to determine what this virus actually does to enable it to controls the cell without its knowledge, how it is able to control the metabolism and discreetly transform it for its own purposes, destroying or modifying only a relatively small amount of proteins produced by the attacked cells. It\’s like a surgical procedure – when we remove one, even small, but important healthy element from the body, this action will cause a significant change in the functioning of the entire organism” – says the researcher from AGH UST.

He adds that the AGH UST team studies the results of NS3 protease activity using advanced, ultra-sensitive analytical techniques that allow to detect of even very small amounts of proteins modified by the virus.

“In practice, research means a better understanding of the infection process, and understanding why we get sick. This will allow us to identify new therapeutic goals and develop new treatments” – says Dr. Krzysztof Pyrć.

The researchers emphasises that if their research yields the expected effect, it would be a breakthrough that would help better understand the mechanisms of action not only of Zika virus, but probably also other pathogens.

Source: PAP