Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Rutgers University reported a discovery that could help scientists develop drugs to fight avian flu and other virulent strains of influenza. The researchers determined the 3-D structure of a site on an influenza A virus protein that binds to one of the human protein targets, thereby suppressing a person's natural defenses to the infection and paving the way for the virus to replicate efficiently. This NS1 virus protein is shared by all influenza A viruses isolated from humans, including avian influenza, or bird flu, and the 1918 pandemic influenza virus. The results were published in the September 2 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During this week's podcast, Dr. Robert Krug, one of the paper's authors, describes how this most recent study actually builds on a finding he made 10 years ago. He provides details on what the research team was able to learn from the image of the 3-D structure of the NS1 binding pocket, which was obtained using X-ray crystallography, and how the team was able to validate the key role of the binding pocket in flu replication. Dr. Krug goes on to discuss how the knowledge gained from the experiment might lead to new drugs to help fight the various flu strains.