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Steps of Virus Infections

6 April, 2016 - 17:26

A virus must “take over” a cell to replicate. The viral replication cycle can produce dramatic biochemical and structural changes in the host cell, which may cause cell damage. These changes, called cytopathic effects, can change cell functions or even destroy the cell. Some infected cells, such as those infected by the common cold virus (rhinovirus), die through lysis (bursting) or apoptosis (programmed cell death or “cell suicide”), releasing all the progeny virions at once. The symptoms of viral diseases result from the immune response to the virus, which attempts to control and eliminate the virus from the body, and from cell damage caused by the virus. Many animal viruses, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), leave the infected cells of the immune system by a process known as budding, where virions leave the cell individually. During the budding process, the cell does not undergo lysis and is not immediately killed. However, the damage to the cells that HIV infects may make it impossible for the cells to function as mediators of immunity, even though the cells remain alive for a period of time. Most productive viral infections follow similar steps in the virus replication cycle: attachment, penetration, uncoating, replication, assembly, and release.

A virus attaches to a specific receptor site on the host-cell membrane through attachment proteins in the capsid or proteins embedded in its envelope. The attachment is specific, and typically a virus will only attach to cells of one or a few species and only certain cell types within those species with the appropriate receptors.


View this video( a visual explanation of how influenza attacks the body.

Unlike animal viruses, the nucleic acid of bacteriophages is injected into the host cell naked, leaving the capsid outside the cell. Plant and animal viruses can enter their cells through endocytosis, in which the cell membrane surrounds and engulfs the entire virus. Some enveloped viruses enter the cell when the viral envelope fuses directly with the cell membrane. Once inside the cell, the viral capsid is degraded and the viral nucleic acid is released, which then becomes available for replication and transcription.

The replication mechanism depends on the viral genome. DNA viruses usually use host cell proteins and enzymes to make additional DNA that is used to copy the genome or be transcribed to messenger RNA (mRNA), which is then used in protein synthesis. RNA viruses, such as the influenza virus, usually use the RNA core as a template for synthesis of viral genomic RNA and mRNA. The viral mRNA is translated into viral enzymes and capsid proteins to assemble new virions (Figure 17.6). Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern. If a host cell does not provide the enzymes necessary for viral replication, viral genes supply the information to direct synthesis of the missig proteins. Retroviruses, such as HIV, have an RNA genome that must be reverse transcribed to make DNA, which then is inserted into the host’s DNA. To convert RNA into DNA, retroviruses contain genes that encode the virus-specific enzyme reverse transcriptase that transcribes an RNA template to DNA. The fact that HIV produces some of its own enzymes, which are not found in the host, has allowed researchers to develop drugs that inhibit these enzymes. These drugs, including the reverse transcriptase inhibitor AZT, inhibit HIV replication by reducing the activity of the enzyme without affecting the host’s metabolism.

The last stage of viral replication is the release of the new virions into the host organism, where they are able to infect adjacent cells and repeat the replication cycle. Some viruses are released when the host cell dies and other viruses can leave infected cells by budding through the membrane without directly killing the cell.



Figure 17.6 In influenza virus infection, glycoproteins attach to a host epithelial cell. As a result, the virus is engulfed. RNA and proteins are made and assembled into new virions.

Influenza virus is packaged in a viral envelope, which fuses with the plasma membrane. This way, the virus can exit the host cell without killing it. What advantage does the virus gain by keeping the host cell alive?


Click through this tutorial ( viruses to identify structures, modes of transmission, replication, and more.