In a study conducted by TariqRana, PhD professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, it was discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. This is made possible because of modifications of methyl groups to adenosine, known as N6-methyladenosine (m6A). During the process of RNA translation then transcription, infected cells have the ability to modify the viral RNA with m6A so that enzymes can attack and destabilize the molecule, thus getting rid of the infection. At the same time, human RNA are also modified with m6A, resulting in a direct host response to Zika viral infection.
Research of the m6A modification was prompted by the discovery of m6A’s role in HIV infection, leading researchers to investigate its role in Zika infection as well. The experiments featured removal of human enzymes responsible for adding methyl groups to viral RNA in human cells infected by the Zika virus. Without the m6A modification, the Zika virus was easily able to infect the cell, with the viral RNA proving to be more stable. With the m6A methylation modification, Zika virus production/replication decreased. The human RNA modifications were also present as opposed to them not bein present in the absence of Zika virus.
This study provided more evidence of the role of m6A modifications in Zika virus infection. It also provided more insight to the human immune response and its ever-changing methods of protection. Future research by Rana will be geared towards investigation of the role of RNA modifications in the viral life cycle, and how the human immune response is altered by various strands of Zika virus.
This finding effectively increased the importance of methylation when it comes to the process of protein synthesis. Learning genetics so far, we are told that the DNA and RNA molecule can be methylated to induce different responses. It is very cool to dive in and finally see a real life example of the response that methylation can cause, that is can be used as a defense against viral infection. Hopefully with this new knowledge about the role of m6A, the Zika virus will be vanquished in a shorter amount of time.