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Researchers uncover clues to flu’s mechanisms

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A flu virus acts like a Trojan horse as it attacks and infects host cells. Scientists at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine have acquired a clearer view of the well-hidden mechanism involved.

Their computer simulations may lead to new strategies to stop influenza, perhaps even a one-size-fits-all vaccine.

The discovery detailed this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows the path taken by hemagglutinin, a glycoprotein that rides the surface of the influenza virus, as it releases fusion peptides to invade a host cell.

The release mechanism has been the subject of many theories, but none have explained experimental observations as well as the new work led by biophysicist José Onuchic at Rice and biochemists Qinghua Wang at Baylor and Jianpeng Ma, who has a joint appointment at the two institutions.

The Rice-Baylor team applied protein-folding algorithms developed by Onuchic and his colleagues to analyze how hemagglutinin reconfigures itself as it infects a cell.

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