Current and Emerging Themes in the Structural Analysis of Viral RNA Genomes: Applications for the Development of Novel Therapeutic Drugs
RNA molecules assume different roles in many different biological processes. This functional diversity is intimately related to RNA folding. In recent years, advances in the field of structure analysis by high-throughput methodologies and the development of novel potent bioinformatic tools have enabled the first structural maps of the eukaryotic transcriptome and the further establishment of novel function-structure relationships. This important progress has been of special relevance in the field of molecular virology. Viral genomes are compact entities that require overlapping coding levels to bear all the genetic information required for viral propagation. This is achieved by the acquisition of functional RNA domains, structurally conserved encoding units that perform essential roles for the consecution of the viral cycle. Interfering with the activity of these structural elements offers a potential means of treating viral infections, such as that caused by the hepatitis C virus, HCV. This review summarizes major achievements in the development of emerging methodologies for the analysis of RNA folding and their application to the study of the HCV genome structure. It will also examine the progress toward the design of novel antiviral compounds based in nucleic acids able to interfere with the folding of functional RNA domains.
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