|Molecular Anatomy of Influenza Virus Detailed
Scientists at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal
and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), part of the National Institutes of Health
in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues at the University of Virginia
in Charlottesville have succeeded in imaging, in unprecedented
detail, the virus that causes influenza.
A team of researchers led by NIAMS' Alasdair Steven, Ph.D., working
with a version of the seasonal H3N2 strain of influenza A virus,
has been able to distinguish five different kinds of influenza
virus particles in the same isolate (sample) and map the distribution
of molecules in each of them. This breakthrough has the potential
to identify particular features of highly virulent strains, and
to provide insight into how antibodies inactivate the virus, and
how viruses recognize susceptible cells and enter them in the act
"Being able to visualize influenza virus particles should boost
our efforts to prepare for a possible pandemic flu attack," says
NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. "This work will allow
us to ‘know our enemy’ much better."
One of the difficulties that has hampered structural studies of
influenza virus is that no two virus particles are the same. In
this fundamental respect, it differs from other viruses; poliovirus,
for example, has a coat that is identical in each virus particle,
allowing it to be studied by crystallography.
The research team used electron tomography (ET) to make its discovery.
ET is a novel, three-dimensional imaging method based on the same
principle as the well-known clinical imaging technique called computerized
axial tomography, but it is performed in an electron microscope
on a microminiaturized scale.
The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal
and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health
and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health, is to support
research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis
and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic
and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination
of information on research progress in these diseases. For more
information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at
(301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS
Web site at http://www.niams.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.