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Concept: Virus


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


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


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


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


We employed an RNA-guided CRISPR/Cas9 DNA editing system to precisely remove the entire HIV-1 genome spanning between 5' and 3' LTRs of integrated HIV-1 proviral DNA copies from latently infected human CD4+ T-cells. Comprehensive assessment of whole-genome sequencing of HIV-1 eradicated cells ruled out any off-target effects by our CRISPR/Cas9 technology that might compromise the integrity of the host genome and further showed no effect on several cell health indices including viability, cell cycle and apoptosis. Persistent co-expression of Cas9 and the specific targeting guide RNAs in HIV-1-eradicated T-cells protected them against new infection by HIV-1. Lentivirus-delivered CRISPR/Cas9 significantly diminished HIV-1 replication in infected primary CD4+ T-cell cultures and drastically reduced viral load in ex vivo culture of CD4+ T-cells obtained from HIV-1 infected patients. Thus, gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9 may provide a new therapeutic path for eliminating HIV-1 DNA from CD4+ T-cells and potentially serve as a novel and effective platform toward curing AIDS.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Bacteria, Organism, Virus, Chromosome


An infant born to a woman with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection began receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) 30 hours after birth owing to high-risk exposure. ART was continued when detection of HIV-1 DNA and RNA on repeat testing met the standard diagnostic criteria for infection. After therapy was discontinued (when the child was 18 months of age), levels of plasma HIV-1 RNA, proviral DNA in peripheral-blood mononuclear cells, and HIV-1 antibodies, as assessed by means of clinical assays, remained undetectable in the child through 30 months of age. This case suggests that very early ART in infants may alter the establishment and long-term persistence of HIV-1 infection.

Concepts: HIV, AIDS, Immune system, Protein, Gene, Childbirth, Bacteria, Virus


Human noroviruses (NoV) are the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis worldwide. Epidemiological studies of outbreaks have suggested that vomiting facilitates transmission of human NoV, but there have been no laboratory-based studies characterizing the degree of NoV release during a vomiting event. The purpose of this work was to demonstrate that virus aerosolization occurs in a simulated vomiting event, and to estimate the amount of virus that is released in those aerosols. A simulated vomiting device was constructed at one-quarter scale of the human body following similitude principles. Simulated vomitus matrices at low (6.24 mPa*s) and high (177.5 mPa*s) viscosities were inoculated with low (108 PFU/mL) and high (1010 PFU/mL) concentrations of bacteriophage MS2 and placed in the artificial “stomach” of the device, which was then subjected to scaled physiologically relevant pressures associated with vomiting. Bio aerosols were captured using an SKC Biosampler. In low viscosity artificial vomitus, there were notable differences between recovered aerosolized MS2 as a function of pressure (i.e., greater aerosolization with increased pressure), although this was not always statistically significant. This relationship disappeared when using high viscosity simulated vomitus. The amount of MS2 aerosolized as a percent of total virus “vomited” ranged from 7.2 x 10-5 to 2.67 x 10-2 (which corresponded to a range of 36 to 13,350 PFU total). To our knowledge, this is the first study to document and measure aerosolization of a NoV surrogate in a similitude-based physical model. This has implications for better understanding the transmission dynamics of human NoV and for risk modeling purposes, both of which can help in designing effective infection control measures.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Microbiology, Virus, Bacteriophage, Vomiting, Gastroenteritis, Norovirus, Nausea


Mucosal surfaces are a main entry point for pathogens and the principal sites of defense against infection. Both bacteria and phage are associated with this mucus. Here we show that phage-to-bacteria ratios were increased, relative to the adjacent environment, on all mucosal surfaces sampled, ranging from cnidarians to humans. In vitro studies of tissue culture cells with and without surface mucus demonstrated that this increase in phage abundance is mucus dependent and protects the underlying epithelium from bacterial infection. Enrichment of phage in mucus occurs via binding interactions between mucin glycoproteins and Ig-like protein domains exposed on phage capsids. In particular, phage Ig-like domains bind variable glycan residues that coat the mucin glycoprotein component of mucus. Metagenomic analysis found these Ig-like proteins present in the phages sampled from many environments, particularly from locations adjacent to mucosal surfaces. Based on these observations, we present the bacteriophage adherence to mucus model that provides a ubiquitous, but non-host-derived, immunity applicable to mucosal surfaces. The model suggests that metazoan mucosal surfaces and phage coevolve to maintain phage adherence. This benefits the metazoan host by limiting mucosal bacteria, and benefits the phage through more frequent interactions with bacterial hosts. The relationships shown here suggest a symbiotic relationship between phage and metazoan hosts that provides a previously unrecognized antimicrobial defense that actively protects mucosal surfaces.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, DNA, Bacteria, Evolution, Microbiology, Virus, Bacteriophage


Cas9 cleaves specific DNA sequences with the assistance of a programmable single guide RNA (sgRNA). Repairing this broken DNA by the cell’s error-prone non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) machinery leads to insertions and deletions (indels) that often impair DNA function. Using HIV-1, we have now demonstrated that many of these indels are indeed lethal for the virus, but that others lead to the emergence of replication competent viruses that are resistant to Cas9/sgRNA. This unexpected contribution of Cas9 to the development of viral resistance is facilitated by some indels that are not deleterious for viral replication, but that are refractory to recognition by the same sgRNA as a result of changing the target DNA sequences. This observation illustrates two opposite outcomes of Cas9/sgRNA action, i.e., inactivation of HIV-1 and acceleration of viral escape, thereby potentially limiting the use of Cas9/sgRNA in HIV-1 therapy.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Virus, Genome, RNA, DNA repair