Researchers discover prion-like viral proteins that open new targets for antiviral drugs

Researchers at the Human Microbiology Institute (HMI) and Tetz Laboratories have discovered thousands of prion-like domains in human viruses, prompting research that opens new ways of viral pathogenicity, suggests new targets for development of new antiviral drugs and links viruses to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The research by HMI George Tetz and Victor Tetz, was published this month in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

In the paper, George and Victor discuss the discovery of over 2,600 proteins possessing prion-like structures across viruses. Prions are infectious proteins that due to their β-sheet-rich conformation can self-propagate, leading to the accumulation of misfolded proteins in the brain possesses neurotoxic effects and are known to be implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. The reason for the human prions formation remains inconclusive.

The discovery of prions in viral proteins uncovers a previously unknown pathway for the development of diseases associated with protein misfolding, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, ataxias and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Previous works have shown that viruses play a role in the development of some diseases listed above, and the discovery by HMI for the first time proposes that the misfolding of proteins is the previously unknown pathway for these prions to infect humans.

Casey Maguire, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said the finding of prion-like domains in viral structures represents an important discovery for the field of virology.

“What they have discovered are new possible targets that can be used for the development of novel antiviral drugs, which could have huge implications in how we treat and fight a whole host of diseases,” Maguire said.

Victor Tetz, a professor of virology, said the research brings the understanding of the viral interactions with human cells to a new level.

“In particular, this explains the previously unknown mechanisms of viral pathogenicity,” he said. “We are very excited to advance our discoveries to develop principally novel classes of antiviral drugs linked to these viral proteins.”

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