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New research finds RNA strand helps hepatitis C virus survive

Category: Infectious Diseases

Recent research conducted by University of North Carolina (UNC) scientists helped revealed the crucial role that an RNA strand known as miR-122 plays in helping the hepatitis C virus survive and spread.

Hepatitis C infects nearly 130 million people across the globe, and its fatality rate in the U.S. is greater than AIDS. The virus is also the leading cause of liver transplants and a major contributor to liver cancer, a condition that the American Cancer Society reports will kill 20,550 people in the U.S. in 2012.

The human genome is comprised of cellular strands known as microRNAs, which affect the way cells act and how genes are expressed. The UNC investigators found that one of these strands - miR-122 - which usually causes RNA to break down, protects the virus and allows it to produce viral proteins.

"MicroRNAs almost always promote the degradation of cellular RNAs. This is actually stabilizing the viral RNA," said study author Stanley M. Lemon, M.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Center for Translational Immunology and the UNC Center for Infectious Disease.

Lemon also noted that the unique dependency that hepatitis C has on the RNA strand has not been seen with any other virus and the recent research demonstrates how crucial miR-122 is to hepatitis C's survival. This study's findings may have great implications for producing drugs that affect the enzymes and proteins that play a role in the bonds between RNA and hepatitis C. By suppressing the bond, the virus would not be able to replicate.

Hepatitis C facts
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hepatitis C, which can be detected with a blood test, is usually transmitted when a person comes into contact with an infected person's blood. Nearly 3 to 4 million people contract the disease annually. Some common contributors to hepatitis C's transmission include blood transfusions, contaminated needles at healthcare centers, intravenous drug use and being born with the virus due to an infected mother.

Some common symptoms of hepatitis C, according to WHO, include fatigue, reduced appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice. It usually takes two weeks to six months for the viral side effects to become apparent, but nearly 80 percent of people who contract the disease do not display any symptoms.


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