Scientists have uncovered a host of human genes used by the Dengue virus when it hijacks our cells.
The discovery will aid in the development of new drugs and treatments for the mosquito-spread disease, which currently causes more than 65 million infections per year and has a mortality rate of up to 1%.
Writing in this week's Nature, Duke University researcher Mariano Garcia-Blanco and his colleagues explain how they used cultured fruit-fly cells and, one gene at a time, painstakingly inactivated every single gene using a technique called RNA interference. As each gene was turned off in a group of cells the team then infected the cells with a strain of dengue and then measured how well the virus grew. Using this approach the researchers were able to identify 116 fly genes, from more than 20,000 that they began with, which were being used by the virus for its growth and replication and without which the virus was heavily disabled.
Encouragingly, most of these so-called host factors had not been identified previously. The team then compared the sequences of the fly genes with human genetic data and found that over 80 of the fly genes they had identified had human counterparts.
"Each one of these newly-identified host factors is a potential therapeutic target that could be used to block or slow dengue infection," says Garcia-Blanco. At the moment there are no dengue vaccines available "new ways to fight the disease are important," he added.