WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Scientists who studied herpesviruses have found a potential broad-spectrum antiviral that may be effective against a variety of viruses including Zika, according to a study published Tuesday in the U.S. journal mBio.
Two-thirds of the global population are infected with herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and at least 500 million are infected with HSV-2, according to the World Health Organization.
These viruses cause a range of diseases and conditions from oral cold sores to genital lesions to serious eye infections that can lead to blindness.
"After herpesviruses infect a cell, their genomes are assembled into specialized protein structures called nucelosomes," the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.
"Many cellular enzyme complexes can modulate these structures to either promote or inhibit the progression of infection."
In a study on how one of these complexes, called EZH2/1, regulated herpesvirus infection, scientists at the NIAID "unexpectedly" found that inhibiting EZH2/1 suppressed viral infection in mice, the agency said.
The NIAID group then demonstrated that EZH2/1 inhibitors also suppressed human cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, and Zika virus infections in cell culture using human primary fibroblast cell lines, it said.
Thomas Kristie, a principal investigator at the Laboratory of Viral Diseases of the NIAID, who led the study, speculated that EZH2/EZH1 inhibitors could be used to boost an individual's innate immunity to emerging viruses or drug-resistant viruses.
"For emerging viruses for which there aren't any immediate treatments, this may be something that could be used to boost an individual's innate immunity," Kristie said.
"This could also be a novel way of treating infections by enhancing the infected cell's own ability to fight the virus," he said. "Many viruses, such as herpesviruses, have mechanisms to circumvent cellular immune responses. What was striking was that these viruses were not able to escape the suppression mediated by these inhibitors."