Some Viruses Gang Up, Research Shows

Poliovirus particle. A new study finds polio and related viruses travel in clusters
Poliovirus particle. A new study finds polio and related viruses travel in clustersCDC / Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

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Viruses such as EV-D68 and its distant cousin polio gang up to infect cells, researchers reported Friday.

Then these gaggles of enteroviruses cloak themselves in pieces of the infected cell to sneak out and infect other cells.

The findings, reported in the journal Cell, may help lead to treatments for polio and other enteroviruses that cause colds and infections of the heart, the scientists said.

Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and colleagues said it’s a major discovery in the field of virology. Virus experts had always thought viruses worked alone.

When viruses act in a cluster, they’re more likely to successfully infect their victims. That’s because viruses are very mistake-prone. But when there’s a batch of viruses all together, at least a few of them will get it right, replicate, and spread to other cells.

In addition, these gangs of viruses take cover in a cell component called an autophagosomes. Usually, these organelles are like recycling centers in the cell, taking in trash and breaking it down. But when they gobble up enteroviruses, they carry them out instead of recycling them, giving the viruses a free ride out of the cell and giving them access to infect other cells.

"This study reveals a novel mode of viral transmission," the researchers concluded. There’s currently no treatment for polio or EV-D68 but understanding these processes may help scientists figure out how to make a drug that can fight such viruses.


— Maggie Fox