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'Defective' virus surprisingly plays major role in spread of disease, UCLA life scientists report
Date:3/1/2013

e a few signs that this phenomenon may be happening for other viruses," Lloyd-Smith said. "We may be cracking open the book on the possible interactions between the normal, functional viruses and the defective ones that people thought were just dead-ends. These supposedly meaningless viruses may be having a positive impact positive for the virus, not for us. There is great variation, year to year, in how large dengue epidemics are in various locations, and we don't understand why. This is a possible mechanism for why there are large epidemics in some years in some places. We need to keep studying this question."

The research points to implications for how mutations might allow a new non-human virus to become a human virus.

"Different strains of a virus with different genetic properties may be interacting more frequently than we thought," said Lloyd-Smith, who studies how ecology, evolution and epidemiology merge to drive the emergence of new pathogens, including new strains with important properties like drug resistance.

Why would a defective virus increase transmission of a disease?

Lloyd-Smith offers two hypotheses. One is that the presence of the defective virus with the functional virus in the same cell makes the functional virus replicate better within the cell by some unknown mechanism. "It might give the virus a bit of flexibility in how it expresses its genes and may make it a bit more fit, a bit better able to reproduce under some circumstances," he said.

A second idea is that the defective virus may be interfering with the disease-causing virus, making the disease less intense; people then have a milder infection, and because they don't feel as sick, they are more likely to go out and spread the disease.

"Normally, biologists test for how well a virus can replicate in a cell, but what we have shown here is even a genotype that cannot replicate in a cell can have an impact on transmission," Ke
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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