A research team from Scripps Florida has identified a potential therapeutic target for hepatitis C.
The research tem led by Professor Donny Strosberg has found that peptides (molecules of two or more amino acids) derived from the core protein of hepatitis C inhibits the production of the actual virus.
"We went for the simplest solution, taking a peptide from core to see if we could block the interaction," Strosberg said, "and it did."
One of the critical problems in developing drugs for HCV is that it mutates at such prodigious rates.
An RNA virus like hepatitis C can mutate at a rate estimated as high as one million times that of DNA viruses; in contrast, DNA viruses contain an enzyme (polymerase) that acts as something of a proof reader to ensure that newly transcribed DNA strands are the same as the original, helping to reduce mutations.
The researchers hope that the new discovery will help in developing improved anti-hepatitis C virus drugs.
The researchers have discovered two peptides that inhibited HCV production by 68 percent and 63 percent, respectively; a third related peptide showed 50 percent inhibition.
"In one sense, the ongoing issue with hepatitis C is that there are still so very few drugs to treat the virus and very few tools to study it," Strosberg said.
"We set out to develop new tools and to identify a new target - core, the capsid protein.
"By targeting the interactions of core with itself or other proteins, we could reduce the problem of rapid mutation not only because the core protein mutates significantly less, but also because mutations that would affect the interface between core and itself or other proteins would often be more likely to deactivate the virus, in contrast to mutations in viral enzymes which often lead to increased resistance to drugs," Strosberg added.
The study appears in the Journal of General Virology.