A new mechanism by which flu virus may kill the cell, and how this could be used to fight the virus
August 15, 2007—Scientists at Cure Lab, Inc., a biotechnology company
based in Canton, Massachusetts, in collaboration with researchers at
Boston University and Harvard Medical School have discovered a
potential new target for the development of anti-influenza (flu) drugs,
including those that may be effective against potentially pandemic
influenza strains like H5N1.
Their findings have been published in the August 15, 2007 issue of the journal Cell Cycle.
potential drug target is the flu protein M2, long known to be highly
conserved between avian and human strains of the virus. Scientists at
Cure Lab found that this M2 protein may single-handedly kill human
“This effect may constitute a previously unknown
mechanism of influenza virus pathogenicity” said Dr. Alex Shneider,
senior author on the paper and CEO of the company. “If so, drugs that
are shown to prevent M2-dependent cell killing have the potential to be
used for the treatment of flu”.
Membranes covering human and
avian cells do not allow ions to move in and out of the cell freely,
thus maintaining internal homeostasis. M2 protein of flu virus forms
ion channels allowing ion trafficking into cells that cells no longer
control. Dr. Shneider and his group not only demonstrated that M2 kills
mammalian cells, but also showed that ion channeling through M2 pores
may be a molecular mechanism of this cell killing process. Dr. Shneider
said that “Developing drugs which block M2 ion channels could reduce or
eliminate M2-induced cell death, and thus may be a new strategy for
targeted development of anti-influenza drugs”.
collaboration with Dr. Vladimir L. Gabai from Boston University, and
Dr. Shamil R. Sunyaev from Harvard Medical School scientist from Cure
Lab, Inc. have developed mutant forms of M2 protein, where the ion
channel is “blocked”. The researchers have shown that these specific
mutations they introduced in the protein significantly reduces its
ability to kill the cell. From the point of view of the pharmaceutical
industry and feasibility studies, introducing mutations into a protein,
which mimic an effect of a future drug, is a way to validate the
feasibility of a drug target.
Dr. Shneider said that an
M2-targeted search for new anti-influenza drugs could lead to a new
generation of medicines which will complement those currently used for
influenza disease prevention and treatment. Dr. Petr Ilyinskii, a
principal scientist at Cure Lab and the first author on the paper also
pointed out that “This is especially important since an increasing
number of influenza strains are becoming resistant to the drugs that
are now widely used”.
Source : Cure Lab, Inc. August 2007.