A Protein’s Role in Speeding Ebola’s Spread Probed

Two material science graduate students and their professor in Johns Hopkins assumed a key part in a multi-institution research project that pinpointed how a little protein appears to make the deadly Ebola virus particularly infectious.

Published recently in the Journal of Virology, this finding could direct researchers toward a treatment focusing on the protein, called delta peptide.
Such a treatment would curb Ebola’s capacity to spread quickly from infected patients to relatives and healthcare workers. This characteristic added to more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths recorded in the amid 2013–14 Ebola episode that ravaged West Africa. More recently, a smaller outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo reminded health officials that figuring out how to contain Ebola must remain an urgent goal.

The delta peptide’s likely role in spreading the disease was reveled by specialists from Tulane University, Louisiana State University and the Johns Hopkins University Institute for NanoBiotechnology, or INBT.

The team member knew that Ebola, similar to all viruses, “hijacks” biochemical machinery inside healthy cells and forces it to produce copies of the virus. They additionally realized that Ebola likewise causes this captive cellular machinery to produce many delta peptides — bits of protein whose purpose was uncertain.

“Ebola causes infected cells to make the delta peptide,” said Kalina Hristova, a professor of materials science and engineering in Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School Engineering and a co-author of the journal article. “However, delta peptides do not turn out to be a piece of the new viruses. In this manner, they should be useful to the infection in some other way.”

The scientists presumed that the delta peptides travel through the bloodstream and weaken protective membranes that surround cells in a patient’s gastrointestinal tract. They speculated that the delta peptides caused tiny holes to form tin the membranes, enabling undesirable molecules to enter and wreak unhealthy havoc.

Such a microscopic invasion can cause severe gastrointestinal sickness, which is generally seen in people infected by Ebola. The accompanying loss of blood and digestive fluids expose the patient’s family parental figures and health workers to infection by the virus. The researchers said those cellular membrane attacks proposed the proteins are of a sort known as viroporins.

The lead researchers at Tulane turned to Johns Hopkins biomaterial experts talented in cutting-edge testing that tracks what impact protein particles have no materials that mimic cell membranes and barriers.