A team of researchers has come one step further to understanding human astroviruses. Human astroviruses commonly infect young children, including cancer patients, but there is currently no treatment. Scientists have now examined the viral structures and identified an antibody that can prevent infections. The details are in a paper that was just published in the Journal of Virology.
Astroviruses are found in a variety of birds (Aviastrovirus) and mammals (Mammoastrovirus). They have a star-like shape with five or six points and weren’t discovered until the 1970s. Astroviruses are a common source of gastroenteritis in young children, leading to diarrhea, cramping, mild fever, and vomiting. There is currently no cure or effective treatment for human astroviruses. Most healthy children can fight off astroviruses without extra treatment. However, immunosuppressed patients, including cancer patients, can become more vulnerable to these types of viral infections. An effective treatment or vaccine could be especially useful in preventing infections in children undergoing chemotherapy.
Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz used x-ray crystallography to analyze the structure and possible vulnerabilities of human astroviruses. The team found a protein structure, known as a capsid spike domain, which sits on the top of the virus and is necessary for infecting human cells. The researchers then found an antibody called PL-2 that neutralized this protein, preventing the astrovirus from attaching to cells. The team concluded that a vaccine could potentially utilize PL-2 to prevent human astrovirus disease in children.
The research team was able to identify a therapeutic target for preventing and treating human astroviruses. The viruses, which generally affect children, can be devastating for patients with compromised immune systems. There is currently no cure but the isolation of the PL-2 antibody is a step in the right direction. Scientists may soon be able to develop a vaccine that uses PL-2 to prevent astroviruses from attaching to human cells.
Bogdanoff et al. Structure of a Human Astrovirus Capsid – Antibody Complex and Mechanistic Insights into Virus Neutralization. Journal of Virology (2016)