Zeroing in on Alphaviruses

Zeroing in on Alphaviruses

Jonathan Lai, Ph.D., and colleagues recently published two papers on alphaviruses—pathogenic, mosquito-transmitted RNA viruses that can cause neurological (encephalitic alphaviruses) and musculoskeletal (arthritogenic alphaviruses) problems in humans. No vaccines or treatments yet exist for infections caused by any alphavirus.

In a study published online on August 19 in Cell, the researchers were part of a team that identified two human monoclonal antibodies that protect against both encephalitic and arthritogenic alphaviruses—the first report of antibodies capable of protecting against both alphavirus types. Administering either antibody to mice pre- or post-exposure protected them against infection by Chikungunya, Mayaro, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and Eastern equine encephalitis viruses. Both antibodies were found to target a conserved epitope (region) common to alphaviruses.

In the second study, published online on September 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Dr. Lai and his team focused on arthritogenic viruses, such as Chikungunya and Mayaro viruses, which cause fever, rash, and a debilitating chronic polyarthritis in humans. The researchers identified and characterized 33 monoclonal antibodies in the plasma of a person who had recovered from Chikungunya infection. Five of the monoclonal antibodies proved to be broadly neutralizing and capable of inhibiting several different arthritogenic alphaviruses; the researchers showed that two of those antibodies protected against alphavirus disease in mice.

Taken together, the findings from the two studies could lead to monoclonal antibody therapy for alphaviruses and help in the design of alphavirus vaccines.

Dr. Lai is a professor of biochemistry at Einstein.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine has filed patent application related to this research and is seeking licensing partners able to further develop and commercialize this technology. Interested parties can contact the Office of Biotechnology and Business Development at

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