From: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Published September 26, 2017 05:37 PM

Biochemists discover mechanism that helps flu viruses evolve

Influenza viruses mutate rapidly, which is why flu vaccines have to be redesigned every year. A new study from MIT sheds light on just how these viruses evolve so quickly, and offers a potential way to slow them down.

The MIT team found that flu viruses’ rapid evolution relies in part on their ability to hijack some of the cellular machinery of the infected host cell — specifically, a group of proteins called chaperones, which help other proteins fold into the correct shape. When the viruses were unable to get help from these chaperones, they did not evolve as rapidly as when they could obtain extensive help from host chaperones. Moreover, the specific evolutionary trajectories followed by individual flu proteins depend on host chaperone activities.

The findings suggest that interfering with host cell chaperones could help prevent flu viruses from becoming resistant to existing drugs and vaccines, says Matthew Shoulders, the Whitehead Career Development Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

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