A key region of the H5N1 avian influenza virus that is involved in viral replication is revealed in two Nature papers. The subunit could prove an important target for new anti-influenza drugs.
The avian influenza A virus contains an enzyme called RNA polymerase that directs the replication and transcription of viral RNA inside the nuclei of infected cells. Separate teams, lead by Stephen Cusack and Zihe Rao, analysed the crystal structure of one of the enzyme's three subunits, called PA, and found it to have strong endonuclease activity-host messenger RNA binds to the endonuclease site where it is cleaved, triggering the production of viral messenger RNA.
The H5N1 subtype of the avian influenza A virus is entrenched in poultry worldwide and poses a growing threat to human health. Of the 387 reported human cases of avian influenza since 2003, 245 have been fatal. Understanding how the virus replicates is essential for researchers to develop new anti-influenza therapeutics to increase preparedness against a global influenza pandemic.
Stephen Cusack (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Grenoble, France) Author paper 
Zihe Rao (Tsinghua University, Beijing, China) Author paper 
Yingfang Liu (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China) Co-author paper 
Abstracts available online:
Paper  Abstract.
Paper  Abstract.
(C) Nature press release.
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