Web Zap*Germs Archive

January 26, 2006

NS1 Bird-Flu Gene Could Be Key to Its Danger

An AP story today describes the flu-virus research underway at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, but buries the lead in the eighth paragraph:
Enter the new clue [to understanding why avian flu kills so many people it infects], a protein called NS1 produced inside flu-infected cells. In bird flus, the NS1 protein harbors a molecular feature that seems to help the virus latch onto and disrupt certain important cellular processes — a feature that influenza strains common in humans don't seem to have, the researchers concluded.

"It's likely to be important in virulence, but we don't have any evidence that it's the case yet," cautioned St. Jude's Dr. Clayton Naeve, who led the new research.

But if the finding pans out, it might provide a marker of virulence. That would be very useful for scientists who collect samples of emerging flu viruses and today struggle to predict which might prove unusually dangerous, explained Dr. Karen Lacourciere, a flu specialist with NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Probably there will be multiple factors that determine a virus' virulence, she stressed.

"If you can help detect factors that correlate with virulence, it helps us in ... understanding when we see a virus whether it's one we should be more concerned about," she said.


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