Researchers led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have identified a mechanism by which the chikungunya virus infects healthy cells and controls how severe the disease it causes will be, a mechanism they believe can be found in a number of other related viruses for which there are no treatments or licensed vaccines.
The findings, published January 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be a first step toward developing drugs to treat or prevent diseases caused by alphaviruses (such as chikungunya) and coronaviruses (such as SARS).
“We feel we have now identified a fundamental mechanism which the chikungunya virus uses during infection that determines how dangerous the chikungunya infection will be,” says study leader Dr. Anthony K. L. Leung, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bloomberg School. “Now we need to use this information to help us find drugs or develop vaccines to stop the virus.”
“The results of these studies open a whole new area of investigation into how cells control virus infection and how viruses that cause severe disease can circumvent that control,” says Diane E. Griffin, a professor in W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School. “We will now be working to identify the proteins targeted, how they work and how we might interfere with these mechanisms.”