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Inside the hepatitis C virus is a promising antiviral

The hepatitis C virus may do more than cause infections. Researchers are learning that a peptide in the virus could kill other viruses.

A peptide derived from the hepatitis C virus (HCV) kills a broad range of viruses while leaving host cells unharmed by discriminating between the molecular make-up of their membranes, reveals a study published January 5 in the Biophysical Journal. The peptide was potent against a range of cholesterol-containing viruses, including West Nile, dengue, measles, and HIV.

“Although there are many antiviral drugs on the market, a common problem is that the virus learns how to evade them, becoming resistant to the drug treatment. There is a growing recognition that new classes of antiviral drugs that target multiple viruses are needed,” says senior study author Atul Parikh of the University of California, Davis and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. “Because the HCV-derived peptide appears to meet this need, we reason it targets the Achilles’ heel of viruses—a lipid coating or membrane envelope less likely to become resistant to drugs targeting them.”

It’s been known that the HCV α-helical (AH) peptide has broad antiviral properties—the same property that allows the peptide to hijack host cell structures for HCV replication also produces ruptures in viral membranes, exposing the viral genome to host enzymes that destroy the pathogens. However, the development of therapies inspired by the actions of the AH peptide has been limited by the lack of knowledge about why it selectively attacks the viral envelope but not host cell membranes.

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