Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Building a Virus
03 May 2012

Building a Virus

Infection with Herpes simplex virus is a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Most sufferers experience cold sores or genital blisters, though viral spread to the brain can be fatal. After an outbreak the virus lies dormant in nerve cells, reawakening periodically to cause infection. Researchers want to discover what form the clandestine virus takes and how it makes new infectious forays. Cryo-electron tomography (left) reveals the blurry shapes of herpes virus components hiding away in a rat brain cell. The computer-generated 3-D reconstruction (right) reveals far greater detail. This team concluded that once the viral DNA wraps up in its protein coat, the resulting football-shaped capsid(light blue) then ‘glues’ to viral proteins (yellow and orange) that help it stick to nerve cells. Finally, the assembled virus hitches a lift to the neighbouring nerve cells in a ‘bubble’ of cell fluid (blue rings).

Written by Roz Pidcock

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