Glasgow University make breakthrough in Zika research

New sequencing of the virus genome discovers immune response

female anopleles mosquito

female anopleles mosquito

Katy Scott
News Editor

Scientists at the University of Glasgow have made a major breakthrough in defeating the Zika virus.

The researchers recently succeeded in sequencing the full genome of the virus from a patient in Brazil displaying symptoms of the disease. They discovered that certain molecules derived from the virus inhibit an important part of the host’s immune system, which could be fundamental to understanding how the virus causes disease.

The team compared the genome sequence obtained from the patient in Brazil to other available samples and examined non-coding regions of the sequence. They were then able to detect a portion of the viral genome in infected cells called sfRNA. sfRNA is found in viruses which cause similar diseases and acts likewise by inhibiting particular sections of the host cell’s antiviral response.

The research has recently been published in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Neglected Tropical Diseases and has been supported by the UK Government and Brazilian partners.

Dr Alain Kohl, of the Medical Research Council-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said: “We have used the information from a Brazilian isolate, which we obtained from our colleagues in Brazil and fully characterised it in collaboration with them, to identify a virus-derived molecule that inhibits a very important part of the host antiviral response system.

“It is particularly important to show this with sequence information as close as possible to the patient-derived virus, as virus strains that are adapted in cell culture may start to mutate.
“This information is important for understanding the pathogenesis of Zika virus infection but may also be useful for the design of attenuated viruses for vaccine studies in the future.”

The World Health Organisation have declared the virus’s link to microcephaly a public health emergency. Outbreaks of the virus have been reported in the Pacific region, South and Central America and the Caribbean. The virus is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes and is thought to have originated in Bahia, Brazil last year.

The epidemic has so far resulted in over 1.5 million cases worldwide and researchers hope that this latest advance will support them in their search for a vaccine.