Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT and CDC discover why H1N1 flu spreads inefficiently

06.07.2009
Flu virus ill-suited for rapid transmission, but researchers say new strain bears watching, could mutate

A team from MIT and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found a genetic explanation for why the new H1N1 "swine flu" virus has spread from person to person less effectively than other flu viruses.

The H1N1 strain, which circled the globe this spring, has a form of surface protein that binds inefficiently to receptors found in the human respiratory tract, the team reports in the July 2 online edition of Science.

"While the virus is able to bind human receptors, it clearly appears to be restricted," says Ram Sasisekharan, the Edward Hood Taplin Professor and director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and the lead MIT author of the paper. Sasisekharan and his laboratory co-workers have been actively investigating influenza viruses.

That restricted, or weak, binding, along with a genetic variation in an H1N1 polymerase enzyme, which MIT researchers first reported three weeks ago in Nature Biotechnology, explains why the virus has not spread as efficiently as seasonal flu, says Sasisekharan. However, flu viruses are known to mutate rapidly, so there is cause for concern if H1N1 undergoes mutations that improve its binding affinity.

"We need to pay careful attention to the evolution of this virus," says Sasisekharan.

On June 11, the World Health Organization declared a level 6 pandemic alert for H1N1. More than 300 people have died and more than 70,000 people have been infected, according to the WHO.

Genetic variation

Sasisekharan and CDC senior microbiologist Terrence Tumpey have previously shown that a flu virus's ability to infect humans depends on whether its hemagglutinin protein can bind to a specific type of receptor on the surface of human respiratory cells.

In the new Science paper, Sasisekharan, Tumpey and colleagues compared the new H1N1 strain to several seasonal flu strains, including some milder H1N1 strains, and to the virus that caused the 1918 flu pandemic. They found that the new strain, as expected, is able to bind to the predominant receptors in the human respiratory tract, known as umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 glycan receptors.

However, binding efficiency varies between flu strains, and that variation is partly determined by the receptor-binding site (RBS) within the hemagglutinin protein. The team found that the new H1N1 strain's RBS binds human receptors much less effectively than other flu viruses that infect humans.

The researchers also found that the new H1N1 strain spreads inefficiently in ferrets, which accurately mimics human influenza disease including how it spreads or transmits in humans. When the ferrets were in close contact with each other, they were exposed to enough virus particles that infection spread easily. However, when ferrets were kept separate and the virus could spread only through airborne respiratory droplets, the illness spread much less effectively.

This is consistent with the transmission of this virus seen in humans so far, says Sasisekharan. Most outbreaks have occurred in limited clusters, sometimes within a family or a school but not spread much further.

"One of the big payoffs of long-term investments in carbohydrate biology and chemistry research is an understanding of the relationships between cell surface carbohydrate structure and viral infectivity," said Jeremy M. Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, which partly funded the research. "Tools developed in building such understanding help in the response to events like the recent H1N1 outbreak."

Second mutation

The researchers also pinpointed a second mutation that impairs H1N1's ability to spread rapidly.

Recent studies have shown that a viral RNA polymerase known as PB2 is critical for efficient influenza transmissibility. (RNA polymerase controls the viruses' replication once they infect a host.) The new H1N1 strain does not have the version of the PB2 gene necessary for efficient transmission.

MIT researchers led by Sasisekharan first reported the PB2 work in the June 9 online issue of Nature Biotechnology. That study also found that the new H1N1 strain has substantial genetic variability in the proteins targeted by current vaccines, making it likely that existing seasonal vaccines will be ineffective against the new strain.

Moreover, the researchers discovered that the new strain might just need a single change or mutation that could lead to inefficient interaction with the influenza drug oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu, raising the possibility that strains resistant to Tamiflu could emerge easily.

The research done at MIT was funded by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences.

Patti Richards | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator
23.02.2018 | University of Turku

nachricht Minimising risks of transplants
22.02.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>