Mystery solved: Scientists now know how smallpox kills

Dec 22, 2009

A team of researchers working in a high containment laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA, have solved a fundamental mystery about smallpox that has puzzled scientists long after the natural disease was eradicated by vaccination: they know how it kills us.

In a new research report appearing online in The , researchers describe how the virus cripples immune systems by attacking molecules made by our bodies to block . This discovery fills a major gap in the scientific understanding of pox diseases and lays the foundation for the development of antiviral treatments, should or related viruses re-emerge through accident, viral evolution, or terrorist action.

"These studies demonstrate the production of an interferon binding protein by variola virus and monkeypox virus, and point at this viral anti-interferon protein as a target to develop new therapeutics and protect people from smallpox and related viruses," said Antonio Alcami, Ph.D., a collaborator on the study from Madrid, Spain. "A better understanding of how variola virus, one of the most virulent viruses known to humans, evades host defenses will help up to understand the molecular mechanisms that cause disease in other viral infections."

In a high containment laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, scientists produced the recombinant proteins from the variola virus and a similar virus that affects monkeys, causing monkeypox. The researchers then showed that cells infected with variola and monkeypox produced a protein that blocks a wide range of human interferons, which are molecules produced by our immune systems meant to stop viral replication.

"The re-emergence of pox viruses has potentially devastating consequences for people worldwide, as increasing numbers of people lack immunity to smallpox," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "Understanding exactly how pox viruses disrupt our immune systems can help us develop defenses against natural and terror-borne pox viruses."

Explore further: Healthy humans make nice homes for viruses

More information: María del Mar Fernández de Marco, Alí Alejo, Paul Hudson, Inger K. Damon, and Antonio Alcami. The highly virulent variola and monkeypox viruses express secreted inhibitors of type I interferon FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.09-144733

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Deadly virus strips away immune system's defensive measures

Dec 12, 2007

When the alert goes out that a virus has invaded the body, cells that have yet to be attacked prepare by "armoring" themselves for combat, attaching specific antiviral molecules to many of their own proteins to help resist ...

Penn researchers discover new mechanism for viral replication

Aug 16, 2007

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have identified a new strategy that Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV) uses to dupe infected cells into replicating its viral genome. This allows ...

Recommended for you

Healthy humans make nice homes for viruses

Sep 16, 2014

The same viruses that make us sick can take up residence in and on the human body without provoking a sneeze, cough or other troublesome symptom, according to new research at Washington University School ...

Unraveling cell division

Sep 16, 2014

CRG researchers shed new light on mitosis. The study published in the Journal of Cell Biology describes how Topo 2 disentangles DNA molecules and is essential for proper cell division

User comments : 0