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Zika Virus Update: Immature Structure Of The Virus Have Been Determined By Researchers

Update Date: Jan 10, 2017 08:20 AM EST

Recently, a positive step towards understanding the Zika virus has been made. Researchers were able to determine the immature structure of the Zika virus through the use of the cryo-electron microscopy technique.

Using the cryo-electron microscopy technique, researchers from Purdue University were able to reconstruct the immature Zika virus' structure at nine Angstroms resolution. They discovered that the genome of the Zika virus is inside a protective envelope made up of a lipid membrane, an envelope protein, a precursor membrane protein, and a capsid protein.

The Zika virus' envelope protein is used by the virus to bind, attach, and fuse itself to the host cell during infection. As the virus matures, its protein membrane releases itself from the mature Zika virus to infect other cells.

The Zika virus' capsid protein plays an important role of guiding RNA strands into the virus for assembly. The researchers were first to learn of the position of said capsid protein in the Zika virus.

The high-resolution image of the immature Zika virus reveals the proteins and precursor membrane proteins arranged in 60 spike-like features on the surface of the virus. The capsid protein is located on the internal side of the lipid membrane. Both envelope protein and membrane protein appear on the surface of the virus. This is structurally different from the mature Zika virus where its membrane protein is covered by the envelope protein.

The Zika virus also has a partially ordered capsid protein shell that is less prominent in other immature flaviviruses. Zika virus is a member of the family of viruses called Flaviviruses. Flaviviruses include dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and tick-borne viruses.

Published in the online version of the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, the findings of the researchers will help them understand the inner workings of the Zika virus. These changes that occur from the immature Zika virus to its mature form is needed to help scientists determine how the virus infects and spreads in host cells.

Research into the structures of viruses is important to determine and develop the possible effective antiviral treatments and vaccines needed to combat the viruses.

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