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The funny thing about the virus that causes chicken pox is that no one knows for sure how it or many of its herpesvirus cousins invade and infect cells. It's a bit of a problem: Without that knowledge, it's been hard to find better ways to treat and prevent not just chicken pox, but other diseases caused by closely related viruses, like cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus and shingles – a painful condition related to chicken pox.
Now, Stanford virologists are working with scientists at the new Stanford-SLAC Cryo-Electron Microscopy facility to take a new look at how herpesviruses infect cells. With support from a Stanford Bio-X seed grant, they are taking some of the most detailed pictures ever of proteins on the surface of the chicken pox virus, also known as varicella-zoster virus. These images may soon reveal clues about how to block herpesvirus infections, said Stefan Oliver, a senior research scientist in the lab of Ann Arvin, the Lucile Salter Packard Professor of Pediatrics and a professor of microbiology and immunology.
Technology - Picture - Oliver
"We're using cryo-EM technology to look at the bigger picture quite literally," Oliver said.
The key to the new images, Oliver said, is a relatively new technology called cryogenic electron microscopy, or cryo-EM. In the past, if researchers wanted to study how a virus uses proteins on its surface to infect cells, they would first produce shortened forms of virus proteins and crystalize them. By scattering X-rays off that crystal, teams could infer the structure of the protein, which could yield information about how it works.
Problem - Arvin - Form - Shape - Protein
The problem, Arvin said, is that the crystalized form doesn't necessarily have the same shape as a protein as it exists on a virus or when it...
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