A recent discovery made through x-ray crystallography has determined the three-dimensional structure of a site on influenza A virus proteins that bind to one of its human protein targets, suppressing the human ability to fight off the infection.

Previous research discovered that the NS1 protein binds to a human protein known as CPSF30, which causes the human protein to stop generating molecules needed to suppress flu virus replication. The new study builds on this old research, and the exact NS1 binding pocket that binds to the human CPSF30 has been identified.

The NS1 virus protein is shared by all influenza A viruses isolated from humans. This includes the avian flu and the influenza virus that led to the 1918 pandemic.

“Our work uncovers an Achilles heel of influenza A viruses that cause human epidemics and high mortality pandemics,” says Professor Gaetano T. Montelione, head researcher, from Rutgers University. “We have identified the structure of a key target site for drugs that could be developed to effectively combat this disease.”

A paper detailing the discovery appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the print edition.