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UCSF Researchers Identify New Drug Target for Kaposi's Sarcoma

By Kristen Bole, UCSF News Office | July 29, 2009

UCSF researchers have identified a new potential drug target for the herpes virus that causes Kaposi's sarcoma, re-opening the possibility of using the class of drugs called protease inhibitors against the full herpes family of viruses, which for 20 years has been deemed too difficult to attain.

The new drug target, which is known as a protease dimer, could serve as a model for developing new therapeutics for diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's, the researchers say. Findings are reported in the Advance Online Publication section of the "Nature Chemical Biology" web site and can be found at http://www.nature.com/nchembio/index.html.

Most current antiviral drugs target the active sites of viral proteins, where enzymes and receptors work in a lock-and-key approach to either activate or deactivate that particular protein, the researchers explained. Traditionally, drug development has focused on inhibiting that lock-and-key action to prevent the enzyme, or receptor from being effective.

Some viral enzymes known as proteases, however, including those for HIV and the herpes virus family, take the form of a dimer, or two identical halves - much like a fully opened clamshell - in their most stable state. Those proteases play an essential role in making the virus infectious, but require the two clamshell halves to bind together to be activated, according to the paper.

The HIV protease was successfully targeted for drug development in the 1980s, by blocking the active site on the surface of the dimer, but the herpes virus protease dimer has consistently eluded efforts to disrupt it at its active site, the researchers said.

The UCSF team set out to find ways to instead prevent the two halves of the dimer from connecting at that clamshell joint, to prevent it from activating. What they found was a new target on the unstable, monomer form of the protease, which responded well to a chemical inhibitor.

"If you disrupt the protein-protein interactions, you don't need the key to a specific lock," said Charles S. Craik, PhD, senior author on the paper and a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. "Instead, we're essentially preventing the lock from being made in the first place."

Read more at Kristen Bole, UCSF News Office