New York, Nov 5: Monkeypox mutations have enabled the virus to grow stronger and smarter, evading antiviral drugs and vaccines in its mission to infect more people, a team of Indian-American scientists have found.
The virus has infected more than 77,000 people in more than 100 countries, and in recent times, the case fatality ratio has been around 36 per cent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, can help in modifying the existing drugs used to treat monkeypox or developing new medicines that can counter the mutations thus reducing symptoms of the disease and curbing the spread of the virus.
A team of researchers at the University of Missouri, led by professor Kamlendra Singh, identified the specific mutations in the monkeypox virus that contribute to its continued infectiousness.
"By doing a temporal analysis, we were able to see how the virus has evolved over time. A key finding was that the virus is now accumulating mutations specifically where drugs and antibodies from vaccines are supposed to bind," researcher Shrikesh Sachdev said.
"So, the virus is getting smarter, it is able to avoid being targeted by drugs or antibodies from our body's immune response and continue to spread to more people," he added.
Kamlendra Singh, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and Christopher S Bond Life Sciences Center principal investigator, collaborated with Shrikesh Sachdev, Athreya Reddy, Shree Lekha Kandasamy, Siddappa Byrareddy and Saathvik Kannan for the research.
The team analysed DNA sequences of more than 200 strains of monkeypox virus -- from 1965, when the virus first started spreading, to outbreaks in the early 2000s and again in 2022.
"Our focus is on looking at the specific genes involved in copying the virus genome. Monkeypox is a huge virus with approximately 200,000 DNA bases in the genome," lead researcher Kamlendra Singh said.
He explained that the DNA genome for monkeypox is converted into nearly 200 proteins, so it comes with all the armor' 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," he said.
Kannan and Kandasamy examined five specific proteins while analyzing the monkeypox virus strains -- DNA polymerase, DNA helicase, bridging protein A22R, DNA glycosylase and G9R.
Researchers continue to question how the monkeypox virus has evolved over time.
The efficacy of current Centres for Disease Control and Prevention-approved drugs to treat monkeypox have been suboptimal, likely because they were originally developed to treat HIV and herpes but have since received emergency use authorization in an attempt to control the recent monkeypox outbreak.