“Our analysis suggests that the molecular features that control the process of virion formation are genetically conserved, meaning they do not mutate easily — reducing the risk that the virus could change and make any new drugs ineffective,” Stockley said.
Their study, published January 8 in the journal Plos Pathogens, focused Enterovirus-E, which is the universally adopted surrogate for the poliovirus. It is a harmless bovine virus that is non-infectious in people. The poliovirus causes polio and is the target of a virus eradication initiative by the World Health Organization.
The enterovirus group also includes the human rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.
The study details the role of RNA packaging signals, which are short regions of the RNA molecule that — along with proteins from the virus’ casing — ensure formation of an infectious virion.
Using molecular and mathematical biology, the researchers identified possible sites on the RNA molecule that could act as packaging signals. Using advanced electron microscopes, they could see this process — the first time that has been possible with any virus of this type.
“Understanding in detail how this process works, and the fact that it appears conserved in an entire family of viral pathogens, will enable the pharmaceutical industry to develop anti-viral agents that can block these key interactions and prevent disease,” Twarock said.