The researchers found that a virus's ability to infect humans depends on whether it can bind to one specific shape of receptor on the surface of human respiratory cells.
"Now that we know what to look for, this could help us not only monitor the bird flu virus, but it can aid in the development of potentially improved therapeutic interventions for both avian and seasonal flu," said Ram Sasisekharan, MIT Underwood Prescott Professor of Biological Engineering and Health Sciences and Technology, and the senior author of a paper on the work that will appear in the Jan. 6 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
Flu viruses come in many strains, and not all of them can infect humans. Strains known as H1 or H3 have "jumped" from birds to humans and hence are tailored to attack cells of the human upper respiratory tract. H5 strains are usually confined to birds, but when they do infect humans they can have very high fatality rates.
In the past decade, isolated outbreaks of avian flu (H5N1) in humans have raised concerns that a deadly pandemic could arise if the avian flu evolves to a form that can easily infect humans and pass from person to person. Some scientists believe such an outbreak could rival the 1918 "Spanish flu" that killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide.Scientists already knew that whether an influenza virus infects humans depends on whether its hemagglutinin, a protein found on the virus surface, can bind to sugar (or glycan) receptors in the respiratory tract. Human respiratory cells have glycan receptors classified as alpha 2-6; avian respiratory cells' glycan receptors are known as alpha 2-3. This classification is based on how the sugars are linked together when they are displayed on cells.
The MIT study shows that that view does not adequately explain how viruses evolve to infect humans. The new work reveals that, more specifically, it is the ability of a flu virus to bind to a certain shape, or topology, of specific alpha 2-6 glycan receptor that determines whether it will infect humans.
Alpha 2-6 glycan receptors come in two shapes-one that resembles an umbrella, and another that resembles a cone. The MIT team found that to infect humans, flu viruses must bind to the umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 receptor.
Thus, Sasisekharan and his team have redefined the host receptor for influenza and the criteria for how H5N1 can jump to humans. They did so by showing that the shape of the sugars-and not the type of linkage-is the key determinant for human adaptation of these deadly viruses.
This new interpretation explains inconsistencies that plagued the previous model, according to Sasisekharan. For example, some flu strains that can bind to alpha 2-6 receptors do not infect humans very well. It turns out that those viruses bind to cone-shaped alpha 2-6 receptors, which are present in the human respiratory tract but in much smaller numbers than umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 receptors.
This new paradigm should help researchers develop a better way to track the evolution of avian flu leading to human adaptation, Sasisekharan said. Now, they know to look for avian viruses that have evolved the ability to bind to umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 receptors.
That knowledge could help them create vaccines tailored to combat a potential pandemic. Similarly, these findings will help in the development of more effective strategies for seasonal flu, which still is a leading cause of death.
"Subtle changes in influenza viruses over time can dramatically influence the likelihood that these viruses will be able to infect human populations, and this is a huge concern," said Jeremy Berg, director of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, which funded the research. "This work enables researchers to look at flu viruses in an entirely new way. Dr. Sasisekharan's team achieved this through a multifaceted approach that combines laboratory experiments with the 'mining' of NIH-supported databases, leading to new insights into how the flu virus can adapt to a human host."
Other authors of the Nature Biotechnology paper are Terrence Tumpey of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Aarthi Chandrasekaran, graduate student in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering (BE); Aravind Srinivasan and Karthik Viswanathan, postdoctoral associates in BE; Rahul Raman, research scientist in BE; S. Raguram, visiting scientist in BE; and Viswanathan Sasisekharan, visiting scientist in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Staying in Shape
16.08.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik
Chips, light and coding moves the front line in beating bacteria
16.08.2018 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
25.07.2018 | Event News
16.08.2018 | Life Sciences
16.08.2018 | Earth Sciences
16.08.2018 | Life Sciences