Weizmann Institute Scientists Reveal the Shape of a Protein That Helps Retroviruses Break into Cells
Retroviruses are among the trickier and more malicious disease agents, causing AIDS and cancers such as leukemia. The viruses manage to sneak into cells with the help of special protein assemblies scattered all over their surfaces. These retrovirus surface proteins cause the membrane envelope of the virus to fuse with the membrane of the cell, spilling virus RNA into the cell to wreak damage. Now, a team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry has obtained a close-up 3-D portrait of the large protein complex on the virus that enables its entry into the cell. Their work appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA in March.
These protein complexes recognize and bind to specific sites on the cellular membrane and mediate the fusion process, the first steps in virus infection. However, the shape of this complex on retroviruses and the way that it works had long evaded efforts at detection by various scientific groups. The difficulty is that crystallization, the leading method of preparing proteins for structure solving, does not work well with the elaborate, envelope-bound complexes, which tend to fall apart when they are removed from the virus membrane. Dr. Deborah Fass of the Weizmann Institute’s Structural Biology Department had managed to determine the structures of assorted parts of the complex in the past, but needed a better understanding of how the complex works as a whole.
Alex Smith | EurekAlert!
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