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J Gen Virol. 2015 Aug;96(8):2000-27. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.000201. Epub 2015 May 28.

Viroporins: structure, function and potential as antiviral targets.

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Leeds Institute of Cancer & Pathology and Leeds CRUK Clinical Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, St James's University Hospital, University of Leeds, Beckett Street, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK.


The channel-forming activity of a family of small, hydrophobic integral membrane proteins termed 'viroporins' is essential to the life cycles of an increasingly diverse range of RNA and DNA viruses, generating significant interest in targeting these proteins for antiviral development. Viroporins vary greatly in terms of their atomic structure and can perform multiple functions during the virus life cycle, including those distinct from their role as oligomeric membrane channels. Recent progress has seen an explosion in both the identification and understanding of many such proteins encoded by highly significant pathogens, yet the prototypic M2 proton channel of influenza A virus remains the only example of a viroporin with provenance as an antiviral drug target. This review attempts to summarize our current understanding of the channel-forming functions for key members of this growing family, including recent progress in structural studies and drug discovery research, as well as novel insights into the life cycles of many viruses revealed by a requirement for viroporin activity. Ultimately, given the successes of drugs targeting ion channels in other areas of medicine, unlocking the therapeutic potential of viroporins represents a valuable goal for many of the most significant viral challenges to human and animal health.

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