Field of Science

2011 in virology at Ruleof6ix

2011 was a big year for me and blogging; my first post on the site was during the first week of this year so this makes it a perfect opportunity to now review what I have actually been talked about over the last 52 weeks. I'll highlight the top ten most viewed posts on my site below. Happy holidays everyone and have a great new year. 

10: Smallpox devastated human populations for hundreds of years until it's eradication last century, but where did it come from? Phylogenetics of a large number of natural smallpox isolates document this pathogen's emergence and spread across the world.

9: Ebola virus infection of humans and other primates leads to a dramatic immune response that ends in hemorrhage and death - but how does this virus make your body go into overdrive? This year, researchers show that it may have something to do a 'superantigen'.

8: RNA viruses are one of - if not the most - rapidly evolving organisms on earth. This is bad news for treating these pathogens with antiviral drugs but how does this fast evolution contribute to viral disease? Does it allow the virus to move around the body?

7: Measles is one of the most infectious viruses known to man - but how exactly does it do this? Two papers out this year uncovered a possible mechanism responsible for this virus's ability to spread between humans. They identified the protein nectin-4 as the receptor this virus uses to escape from your body from inside your respiratory tract.

6: We are all used to the fossilised remains of dinosaurs and other ancient animals, but what about fossilised viruses? A paper this year put forward evidence suggesting that some dinosaurs were infected with a close relative of measles virus.

5: Earlier this year, researchers generated the first efficiently genetically modified cat litter. They used this to tease apart the role of one gene in protecting against the feline version of AIDS.

4: Our vaccine against smallpox - the vaccinia virus vaccine - has been used for hundreds of years. But where did it come from? And from what did it originate? Turns out it's not as clear cut as previously thought - or so phylogenetic studies show.

3: Is there a viral origin to some cases of high blood pressure? I highlight the recent link between cytomegalovirus infection and hypertension in humans.

2: Exactly how do some viruses make us vomit? Researchers documented a mechanism joining rotavirus gut infection with the vomit-centres inside our brains.

1: Recent mumps virus outbreaks - I discuss the reasons behind the dramatic rise in the last few years of this historically common childhood pathogen and what we could do to prevent it in the future.

Another round-up of the year re: pathogens and viruses are over at Virology Blog and Contagions.

Viruses at the crossroads of infection

Last week I wrote about a recent paper showing that in some cases influenza viruses can escape from the lungs of an infected person; here, it makes it's way to the local lymph nodes by infecting your lung's sentinal immune cells, the dendritic cells. In this instance, this mechanism is probably being used by our own body's as a defence: by capturing influenza virus in the lung we can kick start our immune system by handing it directly to T and B cells within the lymph nodes. But it can also have deadly implication, especially considering that possibly every virus will have some run in with a dendritic cell during an infection.

**for a great discussion of what goes on inside lymph nodes during the induction of an immune response, see last weeks This Week in Virology**

Complicated diagram of the role of dendritic cells in the immune response. On the left, DC's grab antigen (for example a virus) and thus move into nearby lymph nodes. Here they present antigen to T cells ( or B cells). These cells leave the lymph nodes to hunt down their specific antigenic target (shown on the right here whether the T cells move into infected tissues. What DC's can also do is carry infectious viruses into the lymph nodes where they are free to replicate inside the dense population of T and B cells.