The imaging of vanishingly tiny structures created by the foot-and-mouth disease virus could one day help scientists develop new treatments for infected animals.
In a new study published this week, biologists from Leeds in collaboration with colleagues at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, observed the interaction between components of the virus in test tube experiments under biosecure conditions.
The image reveals the formation of tube-like structures called fibrils which emerged when the components were mixed in vitro and began to replicate. But when the proteins were manipulated to prevent the virus genome from replicating, the fibrils did not form.
"This exciting model has helped us to observe regions that could be of interest to target for antiviral treatment," says Eleni-Anna Loundras with the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The scientists behind the discovery concluded that these fibrils could play a key role in the virus's ability to replicate, a highly complex process that is not fully understood. The findings could also lead to further developments in treatments for diseases caused by the virus.
Loundras, currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Pirbright Institute, carried out the research as part of her PhD work in molecular and cellular biology in Leeds's Faculty of Biological Science.
"These significant findings shed light on the key molecular interactions and dynamics involved within these complicated viral replication complexes, which we still have much to learn about," says Loundras. "This exciting model has helped us to observe regions that could be of interest to target for antiviral treatment."
In test-tube experiments, the researchers took foot-and-mouth disease virus proteins and observed the interactions under powerful electron microscopes at Leeds Astbury Centre and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. They created high-resolution images to visualize and model the fibril structures.
Preventing the replication of the virus through protein manipulation also stopped the production of fibrils, suggesting these structures play a key role in virus reproduction.
"Our research indicates that these fibrils have a function in viral replication in lab experiments, but we don't yet know how important they are in a living cell," Loundras says. "Further research into the function of these structures will be possible in years to come, as imaging technology improves."
Research supervisor Nicola Stonehouse, professor of molecular biology in Leeds' School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, says, "The paper is the result of a really enjoyable collaboration between Leeds and Glasgow, and shows the impact of 'team science.''
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