NIAID media availability: New study describes key protein from highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus and how it might mutate

WHAT: The recent spread of deadly H5N1 influenza A virus among birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa has been the focus of much attention and concern worldwide--largely because of the danger that the virus will mutate into a form that will become easily transmissible from person to person.

In a March 16 article published online by Science, a research team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in California reveals the structure of an H5 protein from a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 avian influenza virus and compares this structure to the same proteins from other pandemic influenza A viruses, including the deadly 1918 virus. Further, they discuss a potential route whereby H5N1 might mutate and acquire human specificity. The work also describes the application of a new technology called glycan microarrays, which can be used to determine whether H5 proteins from various strains of H5N1 target human or bird cells and map how their specificity is changing.

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ARTICLE: "Structure and Receptor Specificity of the Hemagglutinin from an H5N1 Influenza Virus," James Stevens et al. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1124513 (2006).

SPOKESPERSONS: NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is available to discuss the article and its implications for research on vaccines against H5N1. NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg, Ph.D., can comment on how glycan microarrays can help identify flu strains that have the potential to cause pandemic influenza.

CONTACTS: To schedule interviews with Dr. Fauci, contact Jason Bardi in the NIAID Office of Communications and Public Liaison, (301) 402-1663, jbardi@niaid.nih.gov. To schedule interviews with Dr. Berg, contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at (301) 496-7301.

NIAID and NIGMS are components of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. NIGMS supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)--The Nation's Medical Research Agency--includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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