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Ebola: How It Breaks Out of Cellular Prison

Jun 03, 2014 03:31 PM EDT
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Scientists have discovered that the deadly Ebola virus is an escape artist of the microbial world, physically breaking out of cellular prisons set up by the human body to further wreak havoc.

According to a study published in the Journal of Virology, the Ebola virus physically "punches" its way out of vesicles - small prisons that immune cells keep captured viruses in until the body can dispose of them.

However, the virus doesn't simply break out. It, breaks in even further, breaking through the vesicle to get deeper into a cell. There it goes to work- converting cell systems to help produce a new wave of the virus.

"If it stayed in the vesicle, it would be not much of a problem. The cell could digest it," researcher Lucas Tamm said in a statement. "But then it escapes from that internal vesicle into the body of the cell, and that's when the danger happens. It does that by fusing its own membrane with that cellular vesicle membrane, and that lets the RNA of the virus out into the cell to replicate, to basically cause havoc in those cells."

According to the study, Tamm and the rest of his team discovered that Ebola was breaking through vesicles with the help of a "fist" formed by glycoprotein on the surface of the virus. Through lab observation, they found that this fist only formed when amino acids in the virus were exposed to pH levels specific to being inside a vesicle. Otherwise, the glycoprotein remain harmless and relaxed, looking almost like an outstretched hand.

"You have these contacts that need to be made to make the clenching of the fist happen," Tamm said. "If you could find a molecule that throws a wrench into the gears of that mechanism, you could actually block that from happening."

That molecule has not be found yet, but according to researchers, this new understanding of the virus brings scientists one step closer to effectively treating deadly Ebola infections.

The study was published in the June edition of the Journal of Virology.

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