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Viruses hitch a ride in the cell

Viruses can travel around cells they infect by hitching a ride on a microscopic transport system, according to new research.

Cells are exposed to foreign DNA and RNA and it is understood that some of this genetic material can be integrated into the host genome. Using modern microscopic techniques, scientists have been able to see how virus DNA is transported in the cell.

Professor Dr Urs Greber from the University of Zurich will describe interactions between viruses and the cell cytoskeleton today (Tuesday 24 June 2008) at the new SGM-RMS satellite meeting, part of the prestigious MICROSCIENCE 2008 conference being held this week at the ExCeL conference centre in London.

"We have been using human adenoviruses (Ads) to investigate transport processes of foreign DNA in the cytoplasm of human cells," said Professor Dr Greber. "Adenoviruses are a diverse family of agents that replicate their DNA genome in the cell nucleus. We wanted to find out how the virus gets to the nucleus to replicate. To do this we have been using live cell fluorescence microscopy, which means we can literally watch the virus travelling inside the cell."

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Human adenoviruses can cause respiratory, urinary and digestive infections. They occasionally cause epidemic conjunctivitis, and can be fatal in immunocompromised patients. Adenoviruses can aggravate asthmatic conditions, and are associated with deadly gastroenteritis in babies. This research improves our knowledge of how the virus replicates in host cells.

"Virus DNA is transported from the edge of the cell to the nucleus in the middle by attaching to microtubules. These are microscopic tubes that form part of the cytoskeleton, keeping the cell in shape and carrying molecules around in the cytoplasm," said Professor Dr Greber. "We found an unexpected new link between microtubule-based transport in the cytoplasm of the cell and the import of virus DNA to the nucleus."

Other talks at the one-day SGM meeting will concentrate on the 'tussle' that takes place when a host cell tries to fight back against an invading pathogen. Sir David King will start the day by talking about the 'Twenty first century challenges of sustainability and wellbeing'.

Professor Timo Hyypia (University of Turku) will speak on 'Cellular interactions of enteroviruses' and Dr Mark Jepson (University of Bristol) will look at the way in which bacteria invade cells. The manipulation of cellular compartments by the SARS coronavirus for replication purposes will also be discussed by Dr Marjolein Kikkert (Leiden University Medical Centre).

Lucy Goodchild | alfa
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