Researchers at the University of California, San Diego recently discovered that cells infected with Zika virus use methylation of the viral RNA as a means of eliminating the infection. More specifically, cells modify the viral RNA by adding methyl groups to adenosine (one of the components of RNA), forming m6A (N6-methyladenosine). After the virus is tagged with m6A, it acts as a signal for human enzymes to find and destabilize the viral RNA, thus preventing the virus from replicating. This response was also found to induce similar m6A modifications on human RNA, which are not found in normal, non-infected cells.
The researchers also saw that when the enzyme responsible for adding methyl groups to viral RNA was removed from cells, the viral RNA was more stable and replication increased. In contrast, when the methylation mechanisms were increased, Zika virus production in cells decreased. These findings have the potential to influence the development of new drugs that can possibly target the virus by manipulating methylation patterns in cells.
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