New York, April 1: US researchers have for the first time determined the structure of the Zika virus, revealing insights critical to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines for the deadly disease.
Researchers from Purdue University in the US studied a strain of Zika virus isolated from a patient infected during the French Polynesia epidemic and determined the structure of the virus.
The structure details vital differences on a key protein that may explain why Zika attacks nerve cells while other viruses in the same family do not, the scientists maintained.
"The structure of the virus provides a map that shows potential regions of the virus that could be targeted by a therapeutic treatment, used to create an effective vaccine or to improve our ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses," said lead researcher Richard Kuhn from Purdue University.
The study, detailed online in the journal Science, found the structure to be very similar to that of other flaviviruses, which includes dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitic viruses, with an RNA genome surrounded by a lipid, or fatty, membrane inside an icosahedral protein shell.
Yet, Zika differs from other flaviviruses as it invades the nervous system or the developing foetus.
Determining the structure greatly advances our understanding of Zika - a virus about which little is known. It illuminates the most promising areas for further testing and research to combat infection, Michael Rossmann, professor at Purdue University, noted.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that has been reported in 33 countries.
It has been associated with a birth defect called microcephaly that causes brain damage and an abnormally small head in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy.
It also has been associated with the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to temporary paralysis.