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Scientists discover influenza protein behavior that could aid drug development

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  • Scientists discover influenza protein behavior that could aid drug development

    Influenza A viruses are highly adaptable, managing to infect and replicate rapidly and to spread efficiently from person to person. An outbreak has the potential to kill millions of people globally, and many scientists are racing to develop drugs that target the fundamental processes of the virus, such as its genetic replication or acid transport.

    Researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Kent in the United Kingdom have discovered critical information about the behavior of the influenza A M2 protein, which facilitates the release of infectious particles, called virions, from the infected host cell. This discovery could lead to drugs that inhibit M2, thus blocking the virus from infecting other cells.
    Viruses spread from cell to cell through budding, wherein the infected cell's membrane begins to curve into a pouch and form a neck. The neck is then cut in a process called scission, and the pouch containing viral matter is set free to attack other cells. In influenza, experimental evidence has shown that a protein called M2 protein plays this critical role.
    Through computer simulations, UChicago researchers have now learned that the process of gathering M2 proteins in the budding membrane neck is facilitated by the entropy, or disordered state, of the lipids in the region. Once there, the proteins can then cooperate to cut the bud neck to release the virion.

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