West Nile Virus (WNV) has spread rapidly during the last decade across five continents causing disease and fatalities in humans and mammals. It highlights the serious threat to both our health and the economy posed by viruses crossing species, in this case from migratory birds via mosquitoes to mammals. There is no vaccine or antiviral drug for treating WNV infection. One attractive target for antiviral development is a viral trypsin-like serine protease, encoded by the N-terminal 184 amino acids of NS3, which is only active when tethered to its cofactor, NS2B. This protease, NS2B/NS3pro, cleaves the viral polyprotein to release structural and non-structural viral proteins that are essential in viral replication and assembly of new virus particles. Disruption of this protease activity is lethal for virus replication. The NS3 protein also has other enzymes within its sequence (helicase, nucleoside triphosphatase, RNA triphosphatase), all of which are tightly regulated through localisation within membranous compartments in the infected cell. This review describes the various roles of NS3, focussing on NS2B-NS3 protease and its function and regulation in WNV replication and infection. Current advances towards development of antiviral inhibitors of NS2B/NS3pro are examined along with obstacles to their development as an antiviral therapy.
Keywords: West Nile Virus, serine protease, flavivirus, Hepatitis C virus, inhibitor, antiviral
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