In a first step towards preventing transmission of mosquito-borne tropical chikungunya in countries such as India, scientists have identified a potential new pathway for blocking the virus.
The heightened risk in countries whose inhabitants have no immunity to the illness has led to calls for further research into the virus for which, to date, there is no treatment, researchers said.
Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) – University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, in collaboration with colleagues at the Institut Pasteur, France, have identified a pathway in the mosquito that could be targeted to prevent transmission.
“It’s a first step but an important step because now we have clearly identified an antiviral pathway in the mosquito,” said Dr Alain Kohl.
The researchers have identified the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway as having the greatest potential for future anti-viral interventions.
Unlike malaria, which is a disease transmitted by parasites carried by mosquitoes (a different species – the Anopheles mosquito), chikungunya is a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito species.
They are well-established in parts of Central Africa, India and South-east Asia. Aedes albopictus is also now found in parts of Europe and around the Mediterranean, researchers said.
Once a pathway is identified, scientists will look for ways of breaking the transmission chain – either by weakening or strengthening the immunity of the mosquito – possibly through genetic modification procedures.
The chikungunya virus is not usually fatal but can be very debilitating and painful; survivors can be severely affected by long-term problems, including arthritis, researchers said.
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