Measles kills an estimated 122,000 people per year, mostly children in developing countries. It’s caused by a virus that invades human cells and induces them to fuse together into dysfunctional clumps called syncytia – one such clump is pictured here, formed from six cells. To defend themselves, cells produce a protein called RLRS that recognises strands of viral RNA – the invader’s genetic material – and triggers the production of enzymes that attack the virus. In a recent experiment, scientists infected cells with the measles virus and then isolated the RLRS-RNA complexes so that the interaction between the two molecules could be studied in detail. A better understanding of this immune response could help us to develop new anti-viral drugs and increase our knowledge of auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Written by Mick Warwicker