Colo. – In an article published in the scientific journal
Nature, a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues
explain how RNA molecules found in certain viruses mimic the shape of other
molecules as part of a strategy to ‘hijack’ the cell and make more viruses.
findings by Jeffrey S. Kieft, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and
molecular genetics at the School of Medicine and an early career scientist with
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and his colleagues solve a biochemical and
molecular mystery that has confounded scientists for decades.
are worldwide threats to health and agriculture. To multiply, viruses infect a
cell and take over that cell’s biochemical machinery. Thus, understanding the
fundamental molecular processes used by viruses to conquer cells is important.
Among these processes is the ability of molecules created by viruses to ‘mimic’
the structure and behavior of cellular molecules. The virus’ molecular ‘Trojan
horses’ are part of their strategy to take over cells.
paper describes the three-dimensional structure of a viral RNA that mimics one
of the most abundant RNAs found in the cell. It was known for many years that
this viral RNA was a molecular mimic. However, how the RNA acts as a mimic, how
it switches between different structures, and how it performs multiple tasks
was a mystery.
a technique called x-ray crystallography, Kieft and colleagues visualized the
molecule’s complex three-dimensional structure to high resolution. They found
that the viral RNA has a ‘two-faced’ architecture: one face is a mimic of the
cell’s RNA, the other face is less similar and this probably gives the ability
to perform several tasks during infection. This type of behavior may be
widespread, thus this research could apply to many different viruses.
understanding of how a viral RNA can mimic other molecules as part of a
strategy to ‘hijack’ a cell may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines
against infectious diseases.
e article, “The
structural basis of transfer RNA mimcry and conformational plasticity by a
viral RNA,” published online on June 8 by Nature. The other authors are Timothy
M. Colussi, PhD, David A. Costantino, MS, John A. Hammond, PhD, Grant M.
Ruehle, and Jay C. Nix, PhD. Funding was provided by the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute and the National Institutes of Health.