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Concept: Virus


CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9)-mediated genome editing provides a promising cure for HIV-1/AIDS; however, gene delivery efficiency in vivo remains an obstacle to overcome. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility and efficiency of excising the HIV-1 provirus in three different animal models using an all-in-one adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector to deliver multiplex single-guide RNAs (sgRNAs) plus Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 (saCas9). The quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 vector outperformed the duplex vector in excising the integrated HIV-1 genome in cultured neural stem/progenitor cells from HIV-1 Tg26 transgenic mice. Intravenously injected quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8 excised HIV-1 proviral DNA and significantly reduced viral RNA expression in several organs/tissues of Tg26 mice. In EcoHIV acutely infected mice, intravenously injected quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8 reduced systemic EcoHIV infection, as determined by live bioluminescence imaging. Additionally, this quadruplex vector induced efficient proviral excision, as determined by PCR genotyping in the liver, lungs, brain, and spleen. Finally, in humanized bone marrow/liver/thymus (BLT) mice with chronic HIV-1 infection, successful proviral excision was detected by PCR genotyping in the spleen, lungs, heart, colon, and brain after a single intravenous injection of quadruplex sgRNAs/saCas9 AAV-DJ/8. In conclusion, in vivo excision of HIV-1 proviral DNA by sgRNAs/saCas9 in solid tissues/organs can be achieved via AAV delivery, a significant step toward human clinical trials.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Virus, RNA


Little is known about the amount and infectiousness of influenza virus shed into exhaled breath. This contributes to uncertainty about the importance of airborne influenza transmission. We screened 355 symptomatic volunteers with acute respiratory illness and report 142 cases with confirmed influenza infection who provided 218 paired nasopharyngeal (NP) and 30-minute breath samples (coarse >5-µm and fine ≤5-µm fractions) on days 1-3 after symptom onset. We assessed viral RNA copy number for all samples and cultured NP swabs and fine aerosols. We recovered infectious virus from 52 (39%) of the fine aerosols and 150 (89%) of the NP swabs with valid cultures. The geometric mean RNA copy numbers were 3.8 × 104/30-minutes fine-, 1.2 × 104/30-minutes coarse-aerosol sample, and 8.2 × 108 per NP swab. Fine- and coarse-aerosol viral RNA were positively associated with body mass index and number of coughs and negatively associated with increasing days since symptom onset in adjusted models. Fine-aerosol viral RNA was also positively associated with having influenza vaccination for both the current and prior season. NP swab viral RNA was positively associated with upper respiratory symptoms and negatively associated with age but was not significantly associated with fine- or coarse-aerosol viral RNA or their predictors. Sneezing was rare, and sneezing and coughing were not necessary for infectious aerosol generation. Our observations suggest that influenza infection in the upper and lower airways are compartmentalized and independent.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Infectious disease, Copy number variation, Virus, Influenza, Body mass index, Transmission and infection of H5N1


Zika virus (ZIKV) is an emerging flavivirus that causes congenital abnormalities and Guillain-Barré syndrome. ZIKV infection also results in severe eye disease characterized by optic neuritis, chorioretinal atrophy, and blindness in newborns and conjunctivitis and uveitis in adults. We evaluated ZIKV infection of the eye by using recently developed mouse models of pathogenesis. ZIKV-inoculated mice developed conjunctivitis, panuveitis, and infection of the cornea, iris, optic nerve, and ganglion and bipolar cells in the retina. This phenotype was independent of the entry receptors Axl or Mertk, given that Axl(-/-), Mertk(-/-), and Axl(-/-)Mertk(-/-) double knockout mice sustained levels of infection similar to those of control animals. We also detected abundant viral RNA in tears, suggesting that virus might be secreted from lacrimal glands or shed from the cornea. This model provides a foundation for studying ZIKV-induced ocular disease, defining mechanisms of viral persistence, and developing therapeutic approaches for viral infections of the eye.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Virus, Infection, Eye, Ophthalmology, Tears, Optic nerve


The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 binds to a guide RNA and cleaves double-stranded DNA with a sequence complementary to the RNA guide. The Cas9-RNA system has been harnessed for numerous applications, such as genome editing. Here we use high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to visualize the real-space and real-time dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 in action. HS-AFM movies indicate that, whereas apo-Cas9 adopts unexpected flexible conformations, Cas9-RNA forms a stable bilobed structure and interrogates target sites on the DNA by three-dimensional diffusion. These movies also provide real-time visualization of the Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage process. Notably, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain fluctuates upon DNA binding, and subsequently adopts an active conformation, where the HNH active site is docked at the cleavage site in the target DNA. Collectively, our HS-AFM data extend our understanding of the action mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Virus, Genome, RNA, Endonuclease


Background Patients with hemophilia A rely on exogenous factor VIII to prevent bleeding in joints, soft tissue, and the central nervous system. Although successful gene transfer has been reported in patients with hemophilia B, the large size of the factor VIII coding region has precluded improved outcomes with gene therapy in patients with hemophilia A. Methods We infused a single intravenous dose of a codon-optimized adeno-associated virus serotype 5 (AAV5) vector encoding a B-domain-deleted human factor VIII (AAV5-hFVIII-SQ) in nine men with severe hemophilia A. Participants were enrolled sequentially into one of three dose cohorts (low dose [one participant], intermediate dose [one participant], and high dose [seven participants]) and were followed through 52 weeks. Results Factor VIII activity levels remained at 3 IU or less per deciliter in the recipients of the low or intermediate dose. In the high-dose cohort, the factor VIII activity level was more than 5 IU per deciliter between weeks 2 and 9 after gene transfer in all seven participants, and the level in six participants increased to a normal value (>50 IU per deciliter) that was maintained at 1 year after receipt of the dose. In the high-dose cohort, the median annualized bleeding rate among participants who had previously received prophylactic therapy decreased from 16 events before the study to 1 event after gene transfer, and factor VIII use for participant-reported bleeding ceased in all the participants in this cohort by week 22. The primary adverse event was an elevation in the serum alanine aminotransferase level to 1.5 times the upper limit of the normal range or less. Progression of preexisting chronic arthropathy in one participant was the only serious adverse event. No neutralizing antibodies to factor VIII were detected. Conclusions The infusion of AAV5-hFVIII-SQ was associated with the sustained normalization of factor VIII activity level over a period of 1 year in six of seven participants who received a high dose, with stabilization of hemostasis and a profound reduction in factor VIII use in all seven participants. In this small study, no safety events were noted, but no safety conclusions can be drawn. (Funded by BioMarin Pharmaceutical; number, NCT02576795 ; EudraCT number, 2014-003880-38 .).

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Gene, Virus, Factor VIII


Background Antiretroviral medications that are used as prophylaxis can prevent acquisition of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. However, in clinical trials among African women, the incidence of HIV-1 infection was not reduced, probably because of low adherence. Longer-acting methods of drug delivery, such as vaginal rings, may simplify use of antiretroviral medications and provide HIV-1 protection. Methods We conducted a phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a monthly vaginal ring containing dapivirine, a non-nucleoside HIV-1 reverse-transcriptase inhibitor, involving women between the ages of 18 and 45 years in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Results Among the 2629 women who were enrolled, 168 HIV-1 infections occurred: 71 in the dapivirine group and 97 in the placebo group (incidence, 3.3 and 4.5 per 100 person-years, respectively). The incidence of HIV-1 infection in the dapivirine group was lower by 27% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1 to 46; P=0.05) than that in the placebo group. In an analysis that excluded data from two sites that had reduced rates of retention and adherence, the incidence of HIV-1 infection in the dapivirine group was lower by 37% (95% CI, 12 to 56; P=0.007) than that in the placebo group. In a post hoc analysis, higher rates of HIV-1 protection were observed among women over the age of 21 years (56%; 95% CI, 31 to 71; P<0.001) but not among those 21 years of age or younger (-27%; 95% CI, -133 to 31; P=0.45), a difference that was correlated with reduced adherence. The rates of adverse medical events and antiretroviral resistance among women who acquired HIV-1 infection were similar in the two groups. Conclusions A monthly vaginal ring containing dapivirine reduced the risk of HIV-1 infection among African women, with increased efficacy in subgroups with evidence of increased adherence. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health; number, NCT01617096 .).

Concepts: Antiretroviral drug, HIV, AIDS, Immune system, Clinical trial, Virus, Africa, Placebo


Zika virus is causally linked with congenital microcephaly and may be associated with pregnancy loss. However, the mechanisms of Zika virus intrauterine transmission and replication and its tropism and persistence in tissues are poorly understood. We tested tissues from 52 case-patients: 8 infants with microcephaly who died and 44 women suspected of being infected with Zika virus during pregnancy. By reverse transcription PCR, tissues from 32 (62%) case-patients (brains from 8 infants with microcephaly and placental/fetal tissues from 24 women) were positive for Zika virus. In situ hybridization localized replicative Zika virus RNA in brains of 7 infants and in placentas of 9 women who had pregnancy losses during the first or second trimester. These findings demonstrate that Zika virus replicates and persists in fetal brains and placentas, providing direct evidence of its association with microcephaly. Tissue-based reverse transcription PCR extends the time frame of Zika virus detection in congenital and pregnancy-associated infections.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Molecular biology, Virus, RNA


Smallpox holds a unique position in the history of medicine. It was the first disease for which a vaccine was developed and remains the only human disease eradicated by vaccination. Although there have been claims of smallpox in Egypt, India, and China dating back millennia [1-4], the timescale of emergence of the causative agent, variola virus (VARV), and how it evolved in the context of increasingly widespread immunization, have proven controversial [4-9]. In particular, some molecular-clock-based studies have suggested that key events in VARV evolution only occurred during the last two centuries [4-6] and hence in apparent conflict with anecdotal historical reports, although it is difficult to distinguish smallpox from other pustular rashes by description alone. To address these issues, we captured, sequenced, and reconstructed a draft genome of an ancient strain of VARV, sampled from a Lithuanian child mummy dating between 1643 and 1665 and close to the time of several documented European epidemics [1, 2, 10]. When compared to vaccinia virus, this archival strain contained the same pattern of gene degradation as 20(th) century VARVs, indicating that such loss of gene function had occurred before ca. 1650. Strikingly, the mummy sequence fell basal to all currently sequenced strains of VARV on phylogenetic trees. Molecular-clock analyses revealed a strong clock-like structure and that the timescale of smallpox evolution is more recent than often supposed, with the diversification of major viral lineages only occurring within the 18(th) and 19(th) centuries, concomitant with the development of modern vaccination.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Virus, Vaccine, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Cowpox


Highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza A viruses occasionally infect humans, but currently do not transmit efficiently among humans. The viral haemagglutinin (HA) protein is a known host-range determinant as it mediates virus binding to host-specific cellular receptors. Here we assess the molecular changes in HA that would allow a virus possessing subtype H5 HA to be transmissible among mammals. We identified a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus-comprising H5 HA (from an H5N1 virus) with four mutations and the remaining seven gene segments from a 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus-that was capable of droplet transmission in a ferret model. The transmissible H5 reassortant virus preferentially recognized human-type receptors, replicated efficiently in ferrets, caused lung lesions and weight loss, but was not highly pathogenic and did not cause mortality. These results indicate that H5 HA can convert to an HA that supports efficient viral transmission in mammals; however, we do not know whether the four mutations in the H5 HA identified here would render a wholly avian H5N1 virus transmissible. The genetic origin of the remaining seven viral gene segments may also critically contribute to transmissibility in mammals. Nevertheless, as H5N1 viruses continue to evolve and infect humans, receptor-binding variants of H5N1 viruses with pandemic potential, including avian-human reassortant viruses as tested here, may emerge. Our findings emphasize the need to prepare for potential pandemics caused by influenza viruses possessing H5 HA, and will help individuals conducting surveillance in regions with circulating H5N1 viruses to recognize key residues that predict the pandemic potential of isolates, which will inform the development, production and distribution of effective countermeasures.

Concepts: Virus, Influenza, Avian influenza, Influenza pandemic, Transmission and infection of H5N1, Pandemic, 2009 flu pandemic, Influenza A virus subtype H5N1


In the United States, annual vaccination against seasonal influenza is recommended for all persons aged ≥6 months (1). During each influenza season since 2004-05, CDC has estimated the effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine to prevent laboratory-confirmed influenza associated with medically attended acute respiratory illness (ARI). This report uses data from 4,562 children and adults enrolled in the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network (U.S. Flu VE Network) during November 2, 2017-February 3, 2018. During this period, overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness (VE) against influenza A and influenza B virus infection associated with medically attended ARI was 36% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 27%-44%). Most (69%) influenza infections were caused by A(H3N2) viruses. VE was estimated to be 25% (CI = 13% to 36%) against illness caused by influenza A(H3N2) virus, 67% (CI = 54%-76%) against A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, and 42% (CI = 25%-56%) against influenza B viruses. These early VE estimates underscore the need for ongoing influenza prevention and treatment measures. CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination because the vaccine can still prevent some infections with currently circulating influenza viruses, which are expected to continue circulating for several weeks. Even with current vaccine effectiveness estimates, vaccination will still prevent influenza illness, including thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. Persons aged ≥6 months who have not yet been vaccinated this season should be vaccinated.

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Virus, Vaccine, Vaccination, Influenza, Influenza pandemic, Influenza vaccine