Nihal Altan-Bonnet, assistant professor of cell biology, Rutgers University in Newark, and her research team have made a significant new discovery about RNA (Ribonucleic acid) viruses and how they replicate themselves.
Certain RNA viruses Poliovirus, Hepatitis C virus and Coxsackievirus and possibly many other families of viruses copy themselves by seizing an enzyme from their host cell to create replication factories enriched in a specific lipid, explains Altan-Bonnet. Minus that lipid phosphatidylinositol-4-phosphate (Pl4P) these RNA viruses are not able to synthesize their viral RNA and replicate. The key structural components on cell membranes, lipids often serve as signaling molecules and docking sites for proteins.
Viral replication is the process by which virus particles make new copies of themselves within a host cell. Those copies then can go on to infect other cells. An RNA virus is a virus that has RNA, rather than DNA, as its genetic material. Many human pathogens are RNA viruses, including SARS virus, West Nile virus, HIV, and the ones Altan-Bonnet has been studying.
As reported in the May 28, 2010 issue of Cell, Altan-Bonnet and her co-researchers for the first time have uncovered that certain RNA viruses take control of a cellular enzyme to design a replication compartment on the cell's membrane filled with PI4P lipids. Those lipids, in turn, allow the RNA viruses to attract and stimulate the enzymes they need for replication. In uninfected cells, the levels of PI4P lipids are kept low, but in virally infected cells those levels increase dramatically. The findings by Altan-Bonnet and her colleagues not only open several possibilities for preventing the spread of various viral infections, but also may help to shed new light on the regulation of RNA synthesis at the cellular level and potentially on how some cancers develop.
"The goal of the virus is to replicate itself," notes Altan-Bonnet. "For its
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