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Haemorrhagic Lassa fever occurs if Lassa viruses can replicate very rapidly in the human body. To this end, a virus protein called nucleoprotein is of great importance.
The viruses produce it to protect their DNA against attacks of the human defence system. Together with colleagues from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) at DESY we have analysed the spatial structure of this nucleoprotein. Using gene technology, we produced large amounts of the protein in high purity. Only then the protein forms crystals. Crystals deviate X-ray beams in a highly specific manner such that from the pattern on the X-ray film one can deduce the structure of the protein down to the location of individual atoms. In addition, 6,000 electron micrographs of the protein were assembled to a single image. Together the findings show that each three nucleoproteins assemble to form symmetrical rings, which can sheath the genetic material of the virus. These structural details may allow to specifically tailor anti-viral drugs, for example, to prevent the reproduction of the virus by blocking the assembly of the nucleoproteins or the sheathing of viral DNA.
Brunotte L. et al., J Biol Chem 2011, 286(44):3748- 38756
Linda Brunotte, Romy Kerber, Meike Hass, Martin Gabriel, Michaela Lelke, Carola Busch, Stephan Günther and external cooperation partners (see publication)