Ebola is the poster virus for outbreak scares because it spreads extremely fast and kills 90 percent of its victims by causing them to bleed uncontrollably. Featured in science-scare book The Hot Zone and countless cheesy movies, Ebola is considered ripe for development into a bio-weapon. But now it seems that a group of U.S. researchers may be on the fast track to a cure. In an article published online today in PLoS Pathogens, they explain that they've discovered how Ebola viruses trick their way into cells, and have a drug that can stop this process in its tracks. It turns out that Ebola exploits a vulnerability in something called the "PI3 kinase pathway," a biochemical mechanism that is responsible for cell longevity and movement, as well for causing the cell to pull things from outside into the cell via a little bubble called an "endosome." Ebola tricks the cell into wrapping it in the endosome bubble and pulling it inside — sort of like a trojan horse. Once inside the cell, the virus breaks out of the endosome and starts replicating. What the researchers discovered was that if they used a drug that shut down the PI3 kinase pathway, the Ebola remained trapped inside that endosome. Essentially, they used a drug to patch the cell's vulnerable system and keep the virus out. University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston immunology professor Robert Davey, an author on the paper, said in a statement:
The nice part about identifying entry mechanisms is you can prevent the virus from infecting the cell. You can stop the whole show before it even gets started. Up to that point, it's really a bus ride for these viruses, and PI3 kinase is the bus driver. Whether you're talking about Ebola or Ebola virus-like particles, they've all got the virus envelope proteins that trigger the PI3 kinase pathway, which is the first step of getting the virus onto that bus.
He also noted that there are other viruses that exploit the PI3 kinase vulnerability, though Ebola is the first that has been observed in the act of doing it. That means the team's breakthrough might affect how other viruses are treated too. And how cells are manipulated, since once you start mucking around with PI3 kinase pathways, you are playing with cellular movement and longevity. Maybe Ebola will actually prove to be the key to unlocking the secret of longevity at a cellular level. PI3 Kinase-Akt Pathway Controls Cellular Entry of Ebola Virus [PLoS Pathogens via Eurekalert]