Virus Must Pick Lock Before Breakout

US - U.S. researchers have found that the bird flu virus must pick a very specific type of lock to enable entrance ito human respiratory cells, media sources quoted on Monday.
calendar icon 8 January 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

Shape difference may explain why humans can get bird flu from a bird and not pass it along easily to other humans, said Ram Sasisekharan, a professor of biological engineering and health sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The researchers found that the most infectious human flu viruses bind with the umbrella-shaped receptors in the upper respiratory tract. They believe the H5N1 bird flu virus would need to adapt so it could latch on to these umbrella-shaped receptors before it could be spread readily from human to human.

Before a flu virus can enter a human respiratory cell, a protein on the surface of the virus must bind with glycans that sit on the outside of the cells. In birds, the virus binds with alpha 2-3 receptors; in humans, it binds with alpha 2-6 receptors, they added.

To infect humans, the H5N1 bird flu virus would need to simply mutate so it could bind with alpha 2-6 receptors. But it turns out not all alpha 2-6 receptors are the same. Some are short and cone-shaped and some are long and umbrella-shaped, said Sasisekharan.

The discovery may help scientists better monitor changes in the H5N1 bird flu virus that could trigger a deadly pandemic in humans. And it may lead to the development of new and better drugs to treat flu viruses.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.
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