Scripps researchers identify key interaction in Hepatitis C virus

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have identified a molecular interaction between a structural hepatitis C virus protein (HCV) and a protein critical to viral replication. This new finding strongly suggests a novel method of inhibiting the production of the virus and a potential new therapeutic target for hepatitis C drug development.

The study was published in the January 2010 issue (Volume 92, Part 1) of the Journal of General Virology.

These new data underline the essential role of the viral protein known as ''core'' as a primary organizer of the infectious HCV particle assembly and support a new molecular understanding of the formation of the viral particle itself.

''While our finding that the HCV core interacts with the non-structural helicase protein was not totally unexpected, this had not really been confirmed until this study,'' said Scripps Florida Professor Donny Strosberg, who led the study. ''But the most exciting part is that small molecule inhibitors of dimerisation [the joining of two identical subunits] of core actually inhibit interaction between core and helicase, thus possibly preventing production of an infectious viral particle.''

A viral plague
Hepatitis C virus infects between 130 and 170 million people worldwide and is the cause of an epidemic of liver cirrhosis and cancer. Because current HCV treatments are only partially effective, a number of alternative molecular mechanisms are actively being pursued as possible drug targets.

One of the critical problems of finding inhibitors for the hepatitis C virus is that it mutates at such prodigious rates. An RNA virus such as hepatitis C can mutate at a rate estimated as high as one million times that of DNA viruses such as the herpes virus.