University of Virginia researchers uncover mechanism used by ebola virus to escape death

A team of researchers at the University of Virginia's School of Medicine recently discovered that the notorious ebola virus uses a mechanism to puncture and escape from vesicles-pockets that trap foreign bodies and viruses for disposal by the body.

The team, which is led by Lukas Tamm, a professor of molecular physiology and biological physics at the University of Virginia, published its discovery in the Journal of Virology, Medical News Today reports.

After a cell captures the ebola virus, the cell traps it in a vesicle for disposal, but the pH environment in the vesicle causes a surface molecule on the virus, known as a glycoprotein, to form a "fist" that the virus then uses to punch its way out of the vesicle.

The virus travels into the cytoplasm-the fluid part of the cell-where it begins converting normal cell structures into virus-replicating structures to make copies of itself, according to Medical News Today.

The finding points to part of the infection process that researchers must learn to halt to prevent the spread of the deadly pathogen. Currently, there is no cure for infections caused by the ebola virus, contributing to concerns regarding the use of the virus in a bioterror attack.

Tamm said, however, that the virus must recognize amino acids within itself in order to form the puncturing "fist," which he said could be the key to blocking infection.

"Once you have visualized the molecular shape changes that these structures undergo upon cell entry, you can see what molecules or potential anti-viral drugs could interfere with this process," Tamm said, Medical News Today reports. "You have these contacts that need to be made to make the clenching of the fist happen-if you could find a molecule that throws a wrench into the gears of that mechanism, you could actually block that from happening."

To test the theory, the team tested virus-like particles that act like the ebola virus but are lab-safe. The researchers also created a computer model demonstrating the infection process.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is one of the most deadly diseases known to man, with a mortality rate of 90 percent in some cases, depending on the strain associated with the infection, according to Medical News Today.

The disease has spread across the African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which experienced a historic outbreak in April.