Study points to a way to treat African swine fever in pigs

African swine fever is a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease of pigs. Currently, there is no published treatment or vaccine for the disease. Mortality rates may be as high as 100%. The causative agent of the disease is the African swine fever virus (ASFV), a DNA virus of the Asfarviridae family. The virus does not affect humans. But it is becoming a threat to the swine industry worldwide.

Researchers at Fudan University are aiming to identify new targets for the prevention and treatment of ASF. Their latest study, published February 28, 2017, in PLoS Biology, shows that a protein of the virus has a unique structure that has not been seen in related proteins in other organisms.

Lead researcher Jianhua Gan and colleagues focused on an enzyme that helps synthesize DNA, the ASFV DNA Polymerase X (AsfvPolX). AsfvPolX plays a role in the DNA repair process of the ASFV virus genome. Viral replication is partially dependent on the function of AsfvPolX. A better understanding of how AsfvPolX works may help design drugs to combat the virus. Now, in their paper in PLoS Biology, Gan and colleagues described the structure of the enzyme in detail.

The researchers discovered that unlike the homologous proteins, AsfvPolX has several unique structural features. The most important feature is a special binding pocket. They assumed that blocking the binding pocket with therapeutics may inhibit AsfvPolX activity and thus impair the DNA repair process of the viral genome. This may be a new way to combat ASFV.
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