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 Biofilm discovery suggests new way to prevent dangerous infections
23.05.2017 | University of Texas at Austin

nachricht Another reason to exercise: Burning bone fat -- a key to better bone health
19.05.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

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: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>