Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

After 40 years, the first complete picture of a key flu virus machine

20.11.2014

If you planned to sabotage a factory, a recon trip through the premises would probably be much more useful than just peeping in at the windows.

Scientists looking to understand – and potentially thwart – the influenza virus have now gone from a similar window-based view to the full factory tour, thanks to the first complete structure of one of the flu virus’ key machines.


The complete structure allows researchers to understand how the polymerase uses host cell RNA (red) to kick-start the production of viral messenger RNA. Credit: EMBL/P.Riedinger

The structure, obtained by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France, allows researchers to finally understand how the machine works as a whole. Published today in two papers in Nature, the work could prove instrumental in designing new drugs to treat serious flu infections and combat flu pandemics.

The machine in question, the influenza virus polymerase, carries out two vital tasks for the virus. It makes copies of the virus’ genetic material – the viral RNA – to package into new viruses that can infect other cells; and it reads out the instructions in that genetic material to make viral messenger RNA, which directs the infected cell to produce the proteins the virus needs.

Scientists – including Cusack and collaborators – had been able to determine the structure of several parts of the polymerase in the past. But how those parts came together to function as a whole, and how viral RNA being fed in to the polymerase could be treated in two different ways remained a mystery.

“The flu polymerase was discovered 40 years ago, so there are hundreds of papers out there trying to fathom how it works. But only now that we have the complete structure can we really begin to understand it,” says Stephen Cusack, head of EMBL Grenoble, who led the work.

Using X-ray crystallography, performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, Cusack and colleagues were able to determine the atomic structure of the whole polymerase from two strains of influenza: influenza B, one of the strains that cause seasonal flu in humans, but which evolves slowly and therefore isn’t considered a pandemic threat; and the strain of influenza A – the fast-evolving strain that affects humans, birds and other animals and can cause pandemics – that infects bats.

“The high-intensity X-ray beamlines at the ESRF, equipped with state-of-the-art Dectris detectors, were crucial for getting high quality crystallographic data from the weakly diffracting and radiation sensitive crystals of the large polymerase complex,” says Cusack. “We couldn’t have got the data at such a good resolution without them”.

The structures reveal how the polymerase specifically recognises and binds to the viral RNA, rather than just any available RNA, and how that binding activates the machine. They also show that the three component proteins that make up the polymerase are very intertwined, which explains why it has been very difficult to piece together how this machine works based on structures of individual parts.

Although the structures of both viruses’ polymerases were very similar, the scientists found one key difference, which showed that one part of the machine can swivel around to a large degree. That ability to swivel explains exactly how the polymerase uses host cell RNA to kick-start the production of viral proteins. The swivelling component takes the necessary piece of host cell RNA and directs it into a slot leading to the machine’s heart, where it triggers the production of viral messenger RNA.

Now that they know exactly where each atom fits in this key viral machine, researchers aiming to design drugs to stop influenza in its tracks have a much wider range of potential targets at their disposal – like would-be saboteurs who gain access to the whole production plant instead of just sneaking looks through the windows. And because this is such a fundamental piece of the viral machinery, not only are the versions in the different influenza strains very similar to each other, but they also hold many similarities to their counterparts in related viruses such as lassa, hanta, rabies or ebola.

The EMBL scientists aim to explore the new insights this structure provides for drug design, as well as continuing to try to determine the structure of the human version of influenza A, because although the bat version is close enough that it already provides remarkable insights, ultimately fine-tuning drugs for treating people would benefit from/require knowledge of the version of the virus that infects humans. And, since this viral machine has to be flexible and change shape to carry out its different tasks, Cusack and colleagues also want to get further snapshots of the polymerase in different states.

“This doesn’t mean we now have all the answers,” says Cusack, “In fact, we have as many new questions as answers, but at least now we have a solid basis on which to probe further.”


The work was carried out on the ESRF’s ID23-1 beamline. The study was conducted within the joint Unit of Virus-Host Cell Interactions (UVHCI), a collaboration between EMBL, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Grenoble University Joseph Fourier. The work was funded by an Advanced Investigator grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to Stephen Cusack and by the EU-funded project FluPHARM.


Published online in Nature on 19 November 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature14008 and DOI: 10.1038/nature14009.
For images, video and more information please visit: www.embl.org/press/2014/141119_Grenoble

Policy regarding use

EMBL press and picture releases including photographs, graphics and videos are copyrighted by EMBL. They may be freely reprinted and distributed for non-commercial use via print, broadcast and electronic media, provided that proper attribution to authors, photographers and designers is made.

Sonia Furtado Neves
EMBL Press Officer & Deputy Head of Communications
Meyerhofstr. 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Tel.: +49 (0)6221 387 8263
Fax: +49 (0)6221 387 8525
sonia.furtado@embl.de
http://s.embl.org/press

Sonia Furtado Neves | EMBL Press
Further information:
http://www.embl.de/aboutus/communication_outreach/media_relations/2014/141119_Grenoble/#

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>