Scientists use artificial, cell-like ‘honey pots’ to lure, trap deadly viruses

March 3rd, 2011 - 1:43 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 3 (ANI): Scientists have found a novel way to trap a class of deadly human viruses - they have artificial “protocells” that can lure, entrap and inactivate them.

The technique could become the basis for a new class of antiviral drugs.

The cells achieved a near 100 percent success rate in deactivating experimental analogs of Nipah and Hendra viruses, two emerging henipaviruses that can cause fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans.

“We often call them honey pot protocells. The lure, the irresistibly sweet bait that you can use to capture something,” said David LaVan at National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Henipaviruses are surrounded by a two-layer lipid membrane, which contains a pair of proteins that act in concert to infect host cells.

One, the so-called “G” protein, acts as a spotter, recognizing and binding to a specific “receptor” protein on the surface of the target cell. The G protein then signals the “F” protein, explains LaVan, though the exact mechanism isn’t well understood.

“The F protein cocks like a spring, and once it gets close enough, fires its harpoon, which penetrates the cell’s bilayer and allows the virus to pull itself into the cell. Then the membranes fuse and the payload can get delivered into the cell and take over,” LaVan said.

The “honey pot” protocells have a core of nanoporous silica wrapped in a lipid membrane like a normal cell. In this membrane the research team embedded bait, the protein Ephrin-B2, a known target of henipaviruses.

The team exposed the protocells to experimental analogs of the henipaviruses and found that the protocells are amazingly effective decoys, essentially clearing a test solution of active viruses, as measured by using the fluorescent protein to determine how many normal cells are infected by the remaining viruses.

In the long run, say the researchers, the honey pot protocells could become a whole new class of antiviral drugs.

The study appears in PloS One. (ANI)

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