Zika virus: scientists discover how it replicates in cells

A study published in the Journal of Cell Biology describes how the infamous Zika virus acts in the cell where it was introduced to perform viral replication. The virus uses the NS1 protein which converts a particular area of the cell, called the endoplasmic reticulum, into a protective region where the virus can safely survive and replicate.

This is an important discovery because blocking this basic process could represent a new strategy to fight this dangerous virus but also similar viral agents including yellow fever and dengue virus. The Zika virus can be particularly serious for unborn children as it can infect pregnant women and transfer to the fetus.

The research is also important because the ways in which the Zika virus reshapes the endoplasmic reticulum were obscure even though this process was already known, as specified by Lei Shi, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing who participated in the study.

The researchers had already carried out experiments by mutating the NS1 protein so that it did not fit into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane and they obtained good results in the sense that the protein was no longer able to reshape the reticulum and promote viral replication, which was substantially inhibited.

“We conclude that NS1-induced endoplasmic reticulum remodeling is the basis of replication compartment biogenesis and that replication and viral production are abolished in the absence of this process,” says Shi himself, who conducted the study together with Wei Yang, of the Beijing Institute of Pathogenic Biology, and Cheng-Feng Qin, of the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology.