A team of researchers in Germany has discovered the viral mechanism used by flavivirus (Dengue, Zika and West Nile viruses) to hijack the cell’s machinery which is useful in replication. The findings were published in open access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The discovery, as the team says, would help in understanding how viruses manipulate human cells and thereby revealing newer targets for antiviral treatments and drugs.

The research sheds light on how viruses hijack host cell translation steps or pathways, to replicate themselves. The scientists also say it is important to study the mechanism viruses use to direct its own translation to formulate antiviral treatments.

The study was focused on understanding the interactions between the host cell and the virus. Also, the scientists noted that they want to understand how viruses evolve to escape cell defense mechanism in further studies. Human cells initiate stress response on sensing viral infections. In turn, the stress response shuts down protein translation to control the replication of virus, and steals remaining untranslated cellular RNAs to create stress granules. The team found this mechanism seems not work in the case of Dengue and Zika. Therefore, hijacking of cellular mechanisms helps flavivirus to replicate continuously. Therefore, it is understood that the virus is likely blocking the initiation of cellular translation.

Both Dengue and Zika are positive stranded RNA flaviviruses. Once, these viruses infect the cell, the RNA genome is immediately translated by cellular machinery into new virus particles made of viral proteins, thereby spreading the infection. Dengue virus causes hemorrhagic fever and infects an astounding 390 million people yearly. On the other hand, Zika causes fever and vast amount of medical literature connects it to severe neurological birth defects in newborns.

Currently, there are no vaccines or treatments focused on Zika and Dengue. Symptomatic treatments reduce the effects significantly but most patients develop some sort of complications during the period of illness.