How HPIV Respiratory Viruses Infect Your Airways


A lot of lower respiratory infections that are common in kids, like croup, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia, are caused by viruses from the same group: human parainfluenza viruses, or HPIVs. A new study now provides insight into how these viruses infect airway cells.

Professor Tong Wang of the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY (CUNY ASRC) and Professor Amedee des Georges (CUNY ASRC, City College of New York) were authors on the paper, published in PLOS Pathogens.

At the moment there aren’t any vaccines or reliable treatments for HPIVs. In the new study, the scientists imaged part of the infection process that has never been seen before, furthering our understanding of how these viruses work. One day, a deeper understanding of these mechanisms could lead to new pharmaceuticals.

HPIVs use two different proteins to infect a cell. The first is in charge of binding to receptors on a cell’s surface. This binding prompts the second protein to start working—and this one helps the virus fuse with the target cell. Once they are fused, the virus can infect the cell and send its genetic material inside.

The researchers specifically imaged the part of the process in which the receptor-binding protein triggers membrane fusion. In other words, when protein one triggers protein two. The reason these details have never been imaged before is because the process is fleeting and unstable. But the researchers were able to capture it using cryo-electron tomography.

Though they sound similar, parainfluenza viruses are different from the influenza viruses that cause seasonal flu outbreaks. Whereas HPIVs use two proteins to enter a cell, influenza viruses use only one, so separate research is needed for each group.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Tong Wang (Research Associate Professor, Nanoscience Initiative) | Profile 1
Amedee des Georges (Assistant Professor, Chemistry, Biochemistry) | Profile 1