Scientists have identified a new virus-killing protein dubbed KHNYN that works in tandem with zinc finger antiviral protein called ZAP to eliminate viruses related to HIV-1. ZAP binds to a specific sequence of RNA nucleotides: a cytosine followed by a guanosine, or CpG. According to the lead author of the study Mattia Ficarelli, a Ph.D., a student in Chad Swanson's Lab, Department of Infectious Diseases, King's College London, ZAP by itself is not able to cut up RNA to destroy the genome of viruses. To do that, it must team up with other proteins to target viral RNAs.
KHNYN is a missing piece in a natural antiviral system in humans. "We have identified that KHNYN is required for ZAP to prevent HIV from multiplying when it is enriched for CpGs," explains co-corresponding author Professor Stuart Neil, Department of Infectious Diseases, King's College London.
The findings appeared in the journal eLife Sciences in the article “KHNYN is essential for the zinc-finger antiviral protein to restrict HIV-1 containing clustered CpG dinucleotides”.
Scientists hope that their findings will help develop novel vaccines and medicines to treat cancer. "Since some cancer cells have low levels of ZAP, it may be possible to develop CpG-enriched, cancer-killing viruses that would not harm healthy cells. But much more research is necessary to learn more about how ZAP and KHNYN recognize and destroy viral RNA before we can move on to explore such applications," added Chad Swanson, senior author and lecturer.