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Microbiologists Find New Approach to Treating Viral Illnesses

Study identifies how RNA viruses hijack host cells to multiply (Aug. 22)

By discovering how certain viruses use their host cells to replicate, microbiologists at the University of California—Irvine (UCI) have identified a new approach to the development of universal treatments for viral illnesses, such as meningitis, encephalitis, hepatitis, and possibly the common cold.

The researchers, working with Dutch colleagues, found that certain ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses hijack a key deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) repair activity of human cells to produce the genetic material necessary for them to multiply.

The new findings were announced on August 22 and were published in an online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For many years, scientists have known that viruses rely on functions provided by their host cells to increase their numbers, but the UCI study is the first to identify how the RNA-containing picornaviruses use a DNA repair enzyme to do so.

RNA viruses have RNA rather than DNA as their genetic material. Human diseases caused by RNA viruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), influenza, hepatitis C, West Nile fever, the common cold, and poliomyelitis.

As part of their survival mechanism, RNA viruses mutate often, and drugs intended for them usually become ineffective over time. A drug that blocks RNA viruses from hijacking DNA repair enzymes may avoid these resistance issues. The UCI researchers plan to screen mixtures of drug candidates to find ones that inhibit this process in cells infected by the human rhinovirus, the predominant cause of the common cold.

For more information, visit the University of California–Irvine Web site.

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