Researchers have identified the molecular "lock" that the deadly Ebola virus must pick to gain entry to cells. The findings, made in mice, suggest that drugs blocking entry to this lock could protect against Ebola infection. The study was published in the journal mBio.
The animal study was aimed at confirming whether the protein called Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) is essential for Ebola infectivity. The researchers challenged both "wild type" mice (which have two intact copies of the NPC1 gene) and "knockout mice" (lacking both copies of the gene) with Ebola virus. While the wild type mice succumbed to the infection, the knockout mice were entirely free of virus replication and completely protected against the disease.
"Carrier" mice - those with just one working copy of NPC1 and therefore possessing half the normal complement of NPC1 receptors - proved substantially but not totally resistant to Ebola infection. The mice initially developed high levels of Ebola viremia, but these levels quickly decreased as the host immune response effectively cleared the virus.
"Ideally, future research in humans, based on these findings, will lead to the development of antiviral drugs that can effectively target NPC1 and prevent infection not just by Ebola, but also by other highly virulent filoviruses, which also require NPC1 as a receptor," the researchers concluded.
Based on material originally posted by US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.