There are very few treatment options available for virus infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (PEI), directed by Professor Veronika von Messling who was head of Division of Veterinary Medicines until September 2018, together with scientists from the USA, Singapore, and Canada, searched for common targets against viruses in the Paramyxoviridae and Pneumoviridae families. These virus families include clinically significant viruses such as measles and mumps viruses (Paramyxoviridae), as well as human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) (Pneumoviridae), which causes serious respiratory infections in infants. The aim was to identify new approaches for the development of effective medicines to treat virus infections caused by these pathogens.
For their search, the research group used RNA interference. This mechanism causes so-called gene silencing, a mechanism in which double-stranded RNA molecules (siRNA) deactivate a specific gene by causing the degradation of the complementary messenger RNA (mRNA). As a result, the protein products of these genes are no longer produced because the mRNA of these genes is no longer available. Professor von Messling’s research team performed such screens for measles, mumps, or HRSV viruses separately. Towards this, the replication of the respective virus was tested in cells where individual genes had been deactivated by prior introduction of a complementary siRNA. By observing a reduction in virus replication, the respective deactivated target gene was identified as important for virus replication. The results of the screens for the individual viruses were then compared to identify the target genes that belong to those cellular processes and signaling pathways used by all three viruses. ABCE1, a member of the ABC transporter family of proteins which have an ATP-binding cassette, emerged as a top candidate protein. In further experiments, the researchers demonstrated that ABCE1 is in fact essential for the replication of all three viruses.
„Our research provides an overview of the cellular proteins and signaling pathways connected with infections by measles, mumps, and HRSV viruses, and also shows for the first time that ABCE1 is required by these viruses as a host factor. This could be an important starting point for the development of effective broad-spectrum antiviral medicines,“ stated Professor von Messling in explaining the significance of these findings.
The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, in Langen near Frankfurt/Main is a senior federal authority reporting to the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, BMG). It is responsible for the research, assessment, and marketing authorisation of biomedicines for human use and immunological veterinary medicinal products. Its remit also includes the authorisation of clinical trials and pharmacovigilance, i.e. recording and evaluation of potential adverse effects.
Other duties of the institute include official batch control, scientific advice and inspections. In-house experimental research in the field of biomedicines and life science form an indispensable basis for the manifold tasks performed at the institute.
The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, with its roughly 800 members of staff, also has advisory functions nationally (federal government, federal states (Länder)), and internationally (World Health Organisation, European Medicines Agency, European Commission, Council of Europe etc.).
Anderson DE, Pfeffermann K, Kim SY, Sawatsky B, Pearson J, Kovtun M, Corcoran DL, Krebs Y, Sigmundsson K, Jamison SF, Yeo ZZJ, Rennick LJ, Wang LF, Talbot PJ, Duprex WP, Garcia-Blanco MA, von Messling V (2019): Comparative loss of function screens reveal ABCE1 as an essential cellular 1 host factor for efficient translation of Paramyxoviridae and Pneumoviridae.
mBio May 14 .