DRACO ("Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer") is a group of experimental antiviral drugs under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. DRACO is reported to have broad-spectrum efficacy against many infectious viruses, including Marburg marburgvirus and Zaire ebolavirus, dengue flavivirus, Amapari and Tacaribe arenavirus, Guama bunyavirus, H1N1 influenza and rhinovirus. DRACO is reported to induce rapid apoptosis selectively in virus-infected mammalian cells, while leaving uninfected cells unharmed.
DRACO is selective for virus-infected cells. Differentiation between infected and healthy cells is made primarily via the length and type of RNA transcription helices present within the cell. Most viruses produce long dsRNA helices during transcription and replication. In contrast, uninfected mammalian cells generally produce dsRNA helices of fewer than 24 base pairs during transcription. Cell death is effected via one of the last steps in the apoptosis pathway in which complexes containing intracellular apoptosis signaling molecules simultaneously bind multiple procaspases. The procaspases transactivate via cleavage, activate additional caspases in the cascade, and cleave a variety of cellular proteins, thereby killing the cell.
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