A team of scientists has offered the first look at how our cells can “swallow up and quarantine” Zika, defending themselves against the virus’ attack.
Eight weeks after receiving their first samples of Zika virus, the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) researchers have shown that a very small protein we all have in our bodies, interferon-induced protein 3 (IFITM3), can dramatically reduce the ability of Zika virus to infect human and mouse cells. In some cases, IFITM3 can also prevent Zika virus from killing our cells.
The findings, by senior author Abraham Brass, suggest that boosting the actions of IFITM3 may be useful for inhibiting Zika virus and other emerging viral infections.
Brass noted, “Our results show that Zika virus has a weakness that we could potentially exploit to prevent or stop infection.”
While relatively rare in people of European decent, this IFITM3 variant is more common in Asia and Micronesia. The current study suggests that it will be important to test whether this allele might contribute to the risk of more severe Zika virus infections and birth defects, according to Brass.
First author George Savidis said, “In effect, we see that IFITM3 allows our cells to swallow up and quarantine the virus thereby stopping their own infection, and also the infection of neighboring cells. We think this also reduces the levels of cell death caused by Zika virus.”
“This work shows that IFITM3 acts as an early front line defender to prevent Zika virus from getting its hands on all of the resources in our cells that it needs to grow,” said Savidis. “IFITM3 pretty much keeps Zika virus stuck in no man’s land where it can’t do anything to harm us.”
The study appears in the journal Cell Reports.
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