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Professor Mark Sansom, Head of Department
Complete picture of flu virus envelope revealed
Researchers in the Biochemistry department have built a model of the intact influenza A virus outer envelope for the first time.
The work, co-ordinated by postdoctoral fellow Dr Tyler Reddy and with fellow researchers from the department, has appeared in Structure (1).
Influenza A virion on a mammaliam plasma membrane. Image courtesy of Heidi Koldsoe. The mammalian membrane has GM3 glycolipids (green) on it and single transmembrane signalling proteins (orange) within it. The virion has Forssman glycolipids (yellow), hemagglutinin proteins (red) and neuraminidase proteins (blue) (Click to enlarge)
By bringing together structural information from a variety of experimental sources, the researchers have uniquely included detailed analysis of the viral lipid envelope in their studies. Their model reveals characteristics that may help scientists understand how the virus survives in the wild and find new ways to combat it.
The influenza virus is surrounded by an envelope composed of a lipid bilayer and integral membrane proteins, including haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) that are recognized by the immune system. Whilst there is considerable high-resolution structural information about influenza viral proteins, much less is known about the lipids in the envelope.
Understanding the structural dynamics of the membrane envelope is important because it could provide insights into aspects of viral function such as the wide-ranging survival times of the virus particles in different environments.
A feature related to this is influenza seasonality. 'The annual influenza epidemics that affect human populations in temperate climates tend to be seasonal,' comments Dr Reddy. 'You would typically get your flu jab in the winter because that is when infection is most likely. It turns out that we don't fully understand the basis for influenza seasonality.'