The research of Associate Professor Joseph Marcotrigiano has isolated and examined an outer region of hepatitis C that enables the virus to evade the body’s natural immune system response, which causes persistent, chronic infection.
HCV infection is an important public health problem with 3.2 million people chronically infected in the United States and 160 million infected worldwide. In fact, there are 3 to 4 times more individuals chronically infected with HCV than HIV. As of 2007, HCV mortality rates surpassed those of HIV in the US. There is no vaccine against HCV and it is estimated that an additional 300,000 individuals become infected each year worldwide. HCV is an enveloped virus with two surface glycoproteins (E1 and E2). E2 binds to the host cell and serves as a target for neutralizing antibodies. The Marcotrigiano Lab described the structure of the E2 core domain in complex with an antigen-binding fragment (Khan et al., Nature 2014). The structure consists of an IgG-like and novel folds, which is unprecedented in other viral surface proteins. These results provide valuable insights into HCV entry and will assist in developing a vaccine to prevent new infections and new inhibitors to combat the disease.