Describe a viral infection and explain what impact an infection has on its host
Viruses can be seen as obligate, intracellular parasites. A virus must attach to a living cell, be taken inside, manufacture its proteins and copy its genome, and find a way to escape the cell so that the virus can infect other cells. Viruses can infect only certain species of hosts and only certain cells within that host. Cells that a virus may use to replicate are called permissive. For most viruses, the molecular basis for this specificity is that a particular surface molecule known as the viral receptor must be found on the host cell surface for the virus to attach. Also, metabolic and host cell immune response differences seen in different cell types based on differential gene expression are a likely factor in which cells a virus may target for replication. The permissive cell must make the substances that the virus needs or the virus will not be able to replicate there.
- List the steps of replication and explain what occurs at each step
- Explain the transmission and diseases of viruses that infect animals
- Explain the transmission and diseases of viruses that infect plants
Steps of Virus Infections
A virus must use cell processes 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 (causing cell damage) effects, can change cell functions or even destroy the cell. Some infected cells, such as those infected by the common cold virus known as rhinovirus, die through lysis (bursting) or apoptosis (programmed cell death or “cell suicide”), releasing all 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 the virus infects may make it impossible for the cells to function normally, 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. In Figure 1, the host cell is destroyed at the end of the replication cycle—it’s important to remember that this doesn’t always happen: sometimes the host cell lives on and continues to replicate the virus.
A virus attaches to a specific receptor site on the host cell membrane through attachment proteins in the capsid or via glycoproteins embedded in the viral envelope. The specificity of this interaction determines the host—and the cells within the host—that can be infected by a particular virus. This can be illustrated by thinking of several keys and several locks, where each key will fit only one specific lock.
Entry (Penetration and Uncoating)
The nucleic acid of bacteriophages enters the host cell naked, leaving the capsid outside the cell. Plant and animal viruses can enter 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.
Replication and Assembly
The replication mechanism depends on the viral genome. DNA viruses usually use host cell proteins and enzymes to make additional DNA that is transcribed to messenger RNA (mRNA), which is then used to direct protein synthesis. RNA viruses usually use the RNA core as a template for synthesis of viral genomic RNA and mRNA. The viral mRNA directs the host cell to synthesize viral enzymes and capsid proteins, and assemble new virions. 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 missing proteins. Retroviruses, such as HIV, have an RNA genome that must be reverse transcribed into DNA, which then is incorporated into the host cell genome. They are within group VI of the Baltimore classification scheme. To convert RNA into DNA, retroviruses must contain genes that encode the virus-specific enzyme reverse transcriptase that transcribes an RNA template to DNA. Reverse transcription never occurs in uninfected host cells—the needed enzyme reverse transcriptase is only derived from the expression of viral genes within the infected host cells.
The fact that HIV produces some of its own enzymes 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. This approach has led to the development of a variety of drugs used to treat HIV and has been effective at reducing the number of infectious virions (copies of viral RNA) in the blood to non-detectable levels in many HIV-infected individuals.
The last stage of viral replication is the release of the new virions produced in the host organism, where they are able to infect adjacent cells and repeat the replication cycle. As you’ve learned, 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.
Practice: Steps of Virus Infections
The following activity will show you just how the flu virus can infect your body.
Different Hosts and Their Viruses
As you’ve learned, viruses are often very specific as to which hosts and which cells within the host they will infect. This feature of a virus makes it specific to one or a few species of life on Earth. On the other hand, so many different types of viruses exist on Earth that nearly every living organism has its own set of viruses that tries to infect its cells. Even the smallest and simplest of cells, prokaryotic bacteria, may be attacked by specific types of viruses. Viruses that target bacteria are known as bacteriophages.
When a temperate bacteriophage infects a bacterial cell, it replicates by means of a lysogenic cycle (Figure 2), and the viral genome is incorporated into the genome of the host cell. When the phage DNA is incorporated into the host cell genome, it is called a prophage. An example of a lysogenic bacteriophage is the λ (lambda) virus, which infects the E. coli bacterium. Viruses that infect plant or animal cells may also undergo infections where they are not producing virions for long periods. An example is the animal herpesviruses, including herpes simplex viruses, the cause of oral and genital herpes in humans. In a process called latency, these viruses can exist in nervous tissue for long periods of time without producing new virions, only to leave latency periodically and cause lesions in the skin where the virus replicates. Even though there are similarities between lysogeny and latency, the term lysogenic cycle is usually reserved to describe bacteriophages. Latency will be described in more detail below.
Which of the following statements is false?
- In the lytic cycle, new phage are produced and released into the environment.
- In the lysogenic cycle, phage DNA is incorporated into the host genome.
- An environmental stressor can cause the phage to initiate the lysogenic cycle.
- Cell lysis only occurs in the lytic cycle.
Animal viruses, unlike the viruses of plants and bacteria, do not have to penetrate a cell wall to gain access to the host cell. Non-enveloped or “naked” animal viruses may enter cells in two different ways. As a protein in the viral capsid binds to its receptor on the host cell, the virus may be taken inside the cell via a vesicle during the normal cell process of receptor-mediated endocytosis. An alternative method of cell penetration used by non-enveloped viruses is for capsid proteins to undergo shape changes after binding to the receptor, creating channels in the host cell membrane. The viral genome is then “injected” into the host cell through these channels in a manner analogous to that used by many bacteriophages. Enveloped viruses also have two ways of entering cells after binding to their receptors: receptor-mediated endocytosis, or fusion. Many enveloped viruses enter the cell by receptor-mediated endocytosis in a fashion similar to some non-enveloped viruses. On the other hand, fusion only occurs with enveloped virions. These viruses, which include HIV among others, use special fusion proteins in their envelopes to cause the envelope to fuse with the plasma membrane of the cell, thus releasing the genome and capsid of the virus into the cell cytoplasm.
After making their proteins and copying their genomes, animal viruses complete the assembly of new virions and exit the cell. As we have already discussed using the example of HIV, enveloped animal viruses may bud from the cell membrane as they assemble themselves, taking a piece of the cell’s plasma membrane in the process. On the other hand, non-enveloped viral progeny, such as rhinoviruses, accumulate in infected cells until there is a signal for lysis or apoptosis, and all virions are released together.
Animal viruses are associated with a variety of human diseases. Some of them follow the classic pattern of acute disease, where symptoms get increasingly worse for a short period followed by the elimination of the virus from the body by the immune system and eventual recovery from the infection. Examples of acute viral diseases are the common cold and influenza. Other viruses cause long-term chronic infections, such as the virus causing hepatitis C, whereas others, like herpes simplex virus, only cause intermittent symptoms. Still other viruses, such as human herpesviruses 6 and 7, which in some cases can cause the minor childhood disease roseola, often successfully cause productive infections without causing any symptoms at all in the host, and thus we say these patients have an asymptomatic infection.
In hepatitis C infections, the virus grows and reproduces in liver cells, causing low levels of liver damage. The damage is so low that infected individuals are often unaware that they are infected, and many infections are detected only by routine blood work on patients with risk factors such as intravenous drug use. On the other hand, since many of the symptoms of viral diseases are caused by immune responses, a lack of symptoms is an indication of a weak immune response to the virus. This allows for the virus to escape elimination by the immune system and persist in individuals for years, all the while producing low levels of progeny virions in what is known as a chronic viral disease. Chronic infection of the liver by this virus leads to a much greater chance of developing liver cancer, sometimes as much as 30 years after the initial infection.
As already discussed, herpes simplex virus can remain in a state of latency in nervous tissue for months, even years. As the virus “hides” in the tissue and makes few if any viral proteins, there is nothing for the immune response to act against, and immunity to the virus slowly declines. Under certain conditions, including various types of physical and psychological stress, the latent herpes simplex virus may be reactivated and undergo a lytic replication cycle in the skin, causing the lesions associated with the disease. Once virions are produced in the skin and viral proteins are synthesized, the immune response is again stimulated and resolves the skin lesions in a few days by destroying viruses in the skin. As a result of this type of replicative cycle, appearances of cold sores and genital herpes outbreaks only occur intermittently, even though the viruses remain in the nervous tissue for life. Latent infections are common with other herpesviruses as well, including the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. After having a chickenpox infection in childhood, the varicella-zoster virus can remain latent for many years and reactivate in adults to cause the painful condition known as “shingles” (Figure 3).
Some animal-infecting viruses, including the hepatitis C virus discussed above, are known as oncogenic viruses: They have the ability to cause cancer. These viruses interfere with the normal regulation of the host cell cycle either by either introducing genes that stimulate unregulated cell growth (oncogenes) or by interfering with the expression of genes that inhibit cell growth. Oncogenic viruses can be either DNA or RNA viruses.
Cancers known to be associated with viral infections include cervical cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) , liver cancer caused by hepatitis B virus, T-cell leukemia, and several types of lymphoma.
HPV, or human papillomavirus (as seen in Figure 4), has a naked icosahedral capsid visible in this transmission electron micrograph and a double-stranded DNA genome that is incorporated into the host DNA. The virus, which is sexually transmitted, is oncogenic and can lead to cervical cancer.
Plant viruses, like other viruses, contain a core of either DNA or RNA. You have already learned about one of these, the tobacco mosaic virus. As plants have a cell wall to protect their cells, these viruses do not use receptor-mediated endocytosis to enter host cells as is seen with animal viruses. For many plant viruses to be transferred from plant to plant, damage to some of the plants’ cells must occur to allow the virus to enter a new host. This damage is often caused by weather, insects, animals, fire, or human activities like farming or landscaping. Additionally, plant offspring may inherit viral diseases from parent plants. Plant viruses can be transmitted by a variety of vectors, through contact with an infected plant’s sap, by living organisms such as insects and nematodes, and through pollen. When plants viruses are transferred between different plants, this is known as horizontal transmission, and when they are inherited from a parent, this is called vertical transmission.
Symptoms of viral diseases vary according to the virus and its host (see the table below). One common symptom is hyperplasia, the abnormal proliferation of cells that causes the appearance of plant tumors known as galls. Other viruses induce hypoplasia, or decreased cell growth, in the leaves of plants, causing thin, yellow areas to appear. Still other viruses affect the plant by directly killing plant cells, a process known as cell necrosis. Other symptoms of plant viruses include malformed leaves, black streaks on the stems of the plants, altered growth of stems, leaves, or fruits, and ring spots, which are circular or linear areas of discoloration found in a leaf.
|Table 1. Some Common Symptoms of Plant Viral Diseases|
|Hypoplasia||Thinned, yellow splotches on leaves|
|Cell necrosis||Dead, blackened stems, leaves, or fruit|
|Abnormal growth patterns||Malformed stems, leaves, or fruit|
|Discoloration||Yellow, red, or black lines, or rings in stems, leaves, or fruit|
Plant viruses can seriously disrupt crop growth and development, significantly affecting our food supply. They are responsible for poor crop quality and quantity globally, and can bring about huge economic losses annually. Others viruses may damage plants used in landscaping. Some viruses that infect agricultural food plants include the name of the plant they infect, such as tomato spotted wilt virus, bean common mosaic virus, and cucumber mosaic virus. In plants used for landscaping, two of the most common viruses are peony ring spot and rose mosaic virus. There are far too many plant viruses to discuss each in detail, but symptoms of bean common mosaic virus result in lowered bean production and stunted, unproductive plants. In the ornamental rose, the rose mosaic disease causes wavy yellow lines and colored splotches on the leaves of the plant.
Check Your Understanding
Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.
Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.