A team of scientists has identified the specific mutations in the monkeypox virus that contribute to its continued infectiousness.
Monkeypox has infected more than 77,000 people in more than 100 countries worldwide. Mutations have enabled the virus to grow stronger and smarter, evading antiviral drugs and vaccines.
The findings could lead to modified versions of existing drugs or new drugs that account for the current mutations to increase their effectiveness.
Researchers from the University of Missouri analysed the DNA sequences of more 200 strains of monkeypox virus spanning multiple decades, from 1965, when the virus first started spreading, to outbreaks in the early 2000s and again in 2022.
“By doing a temporal analysis, we were able to see how the virus has evolved over time, and a key finding was the virus is now accumulating mutations specifically where drugs and antibodies from vaccines are supposed to bind,” said Shrikesh Sachdev, Senior Research Scientist.
The monkeypox virus is very similar to the vaccinia virus, which has been used as a vaccine to treat smallpox. This enabled Kamlendra Singh, Professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, to create an accurate, 3D computer model of the monkeypox virus proteins and identify where the specific mutations are located.
Singh commented: “The DNA genome for monkeypox is converted into nearly 200 proteins, so it comes with all the ‘armour’ it needs to replicate, divide and continue to infect others. Viruses will make billions of copies of itself and only the fittest will survive, as the mutations help them adapt and continue to spread.”
‘Mutations in the monkeypox virus replication complex: Potential contributing factors to the 2022 outbreak’ was published in Journal of Autoimmunity.