Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease

Researchers reveal Zika virus structure, a critical advance in the development of treatments

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A team led by Purdue University researchers is the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus, which reveals insights critical to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines.

The team also identified regions within the Zika virus structure where it differs from other flaviviruses, the family of viruses to which Zika belongs that includes dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitic viruses.

A paper detailing the findings was published Thursday (March 31) in the journal Science and is available online.
“The structure of the virus provides a map that shows potential regions of the virus that could be targeted by a therapeutic treatment, used to create an effective vaccine or to improve our ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses,” said Kuhn, who also is head of Purdue’s Department of Biological Sciences. “Determining the structure greatly advances our understanding of Zika - a virus about which little is known. It illuminates the most promising areas for further testing and research to combat infection.”

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Purdue professor part of National Academies Zika virus workshop

Purdue University professor and virus expert Richard Kuhn participated in a national workshop in early 2016 to explore potential Zika virus research priorities.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness Response, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine hosted the one-day public workshop to explore potential research priorities arising as a result of the emergence of Zika virus in the United States.

“This workshop will bring together key stakeholders and experts to discuss the research priorities needed to inform medical and public health practice that can be implemented under real-world conditions to better understand the true risk that Zika virus poses to the public in the U.S. and adequate prevention efforts and interventions to mitigate that risk,” the National Academies Institute of Medicine said in a statement about the workshop.

Kuhn, professor and head of Purdue’s Department of Biological Sciences and inaugural director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease (PI4D), was part of an expert panel discussing viral genetics, evolution, structure and replication; viral disease pathogenesis, complications, immune responses, virus clearance and persistence; and animal models.

Kuhn currently studies the Zika virus and has studied flaviviruses, a group that includes Zika, dengue and West Nile, for more than 10 years. The National Institutes of Health funds his research into the Zika virus, and his focus is on the viral replication and interactions with human and mosquito hosts.

Kuhn identifies targets for vaccines, antiviral drugs and treatments for viruses within the flavivirus group. Kuhn and Michael Rossmann, Purdue's Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, were among the team that was to first map the structure of the dengue virus in 2002.

- Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue News Service

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