Dengue virus NS2 and NS4: Minor proteins, mammoth roles

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Despite the ever-increasing global incidence of dengue fever, there are no specific chemotherapy regimens for its treatment. Structural studies on dengue virus (DENV) proteins have revealed potential drug targets. Major DENV proteins such as the envelope protein and non-structural (NS) proteins 3 and 5 have been extensively investigated in antiviral studies, but with limited success in vitro. However, the minor NS proteins NS2 and NS4 have remained relatively underreported. Emerging evidence indicating their indispensable roles in virus propagation and host immunomodulation should encourage us to target these proteins for drug discovery. This review covers current knowledge on DENV NS2 and NS4 proteins from structural and functional perspectives and assesses their potential as targets for antiviral design. Antiviral targets in NS2A include surface-exposed transmembrane regions involved in pathogenesis, while those in NS2B include protease-binding sites in a conserved hydrophilic domain. Ideal drug targets in NS4A include helix α4 and the PEPEKQR sequence, which are essential for NS4A–2K cleavage and NS4A–NS4B association, respectively. In NS4B, the cytoplasmic loop connecting helices α5 and α7 is an attractive target for antiviral design owing to its role in dimerization and NS4B–NS3 interaction. Findings implicating NS2A, NS2B, and NS4A in membrane-modulation and viroporin-like activities indicate an opportunity to target these proteins by disrupting their association with membrane lipids. Despite the lack of 3D structural data, recent topological findings and progress in structure-prediction methods should be sufficient impetus for targeting NS2 and NS4 for drug design.

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