Illustrating and homology modeling the proteins of the Zika virus

Sean Ekins, John Liebler, Bruno J Neves, Warren G Lewis, Megan Coffee, Rachelle Bienstock, Christopher Southan, Carolina H Andrade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Zika virus (ZIKV) is a flavivirus of the family Flaviviridae, which is similar to dengue virus, yellow fever and West Nile virus. Recent outbreaks in South America, Latin America, the Caribbean and in particular Brazil have led to concern for the spread of the disease and potential to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly. Although ZIKV has been known of for over 60 years there is very little in the way of knowledge of the virus with few publications and no crystal structures. No antivirals have been tested against it either in vitro or in vivo. ZIKV therefore epitomizes a neglected disease. Several suggested steps have been proposed which could be taken to initiate ZIKV antiviral drug discovery using both high throughput screens as well as structure-based design based on homology models for the key proteins. We now describe preliminary homology models created for NS5, FtsJ, NS4B, NS4A, HELICc, DEXDc, peptidase S7, NS2B, NS2A, NS1, E stem, glycoprotein M, propeptide, capsid and glycoprotein E using SWISS-MODEL. Eleven out of 15 models pass our model quality criteria for their further use. While a ZIKV glycoprotein E homology model was initially described in the immature conformation as a trimer, we now describe the mature dimer conformer which allowed the construction of an illustration of the complete virion. By comparing illustrations of ZIKV based on this new homology model and the dengue virus crystal structure we propose potential differences that could be exploited for antiviral and vaccine design. The prediction of sites for glycosylation on this protein may also be useful in this regard. While we await a cryo-EM structure of ZIKV and eventual crystal structures of the individual proteins, these homology models provide the community with a starting point for structure-based design of drugs and vaccines as well as a for computational virtual screening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • Zika virus


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