Flaviviruses (FVs) represent a family of viral pathogens responsible for human life-threatening diseases such as Dengue Fever, West Nile, Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. The infectious agent within this family of viruses is single-stranded RNA. During the process of infection (through arthropod vectors), the viral genome (gRNA) is successfully replicated and subgenomic flaviviral RNAs (sfRNAs) are also produced. In animal studies, it has been demonstrated that these sfRNAs are an integral part of the disease process. It is interesting to note that these sfRNAs are produced as a result of the incomplete degradation of gRNA by the host-derived exonuclease Xm1 – an enzyme that is a part of the host cell defense against infection. In this scenario, host cell defenses inadvertently play a crucial role in producing disease.
This resistance to complete degradation of gRNA by Xm1 has been shown to be due to specific RNA sequences that are referred to as Xm1-resistant RNAs (xrRNAs). It is therefore of interest to more fully understand the molecular structure of xrRNAs and, therefore, elucidate the nature of the resistance to the action of Xm1.
Dr. Erich G. Chapman and his colleagues at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, School of Medicine, University of Colorado at Denver focused their research efforts on establishing the unique and precise structural aspects of xrRNAs that make them impervious to Xm1-mediated degradation.
As a result of their extensive analysis they were able to show that the three-dimensional structure of xrRNAs consist of a “ringlike” conformation that prevents Xm1 from breaking down sfRNAs. In addition, the investigators purposefully disrupted this structure and effectively prevented the formation of sfRNAs during infection. This is an important finding; for, it helps clarify the mechanism of FV infections that impact many individuals throughout the world.