Mayo Clinic researchers have revealed that measles infection does not spread through one's body via airways and the lungs, as long believed.
The team reported that the measles virus instead spreads through immune system cells called lymphocytes.
Individuals inhale measles virus particles in aerosols and it is currently thought that these particles infect the cells that line the airways (respiratory epithelial cells) before being passed to immune cells that carry the virus particles to other parts of the body and then back to the airways, which again become infected and shed virus into exhaled aerosols.
The new study, conducted on monkeys, revealed that a measles virus unable to bind to and infect epithelial cells was found to cause symptoms of measles virus infection.
However it did not infect respiratory epithelial cells and was not being shed into exhaled aerosols.
The study showed that inhaled measles virus particles first infect lymphocytes and are only passed to respiratory epithelial cells from the lymphocytes in the tissues.
Further, they indicate that the protein that measles virus particles bind to on respiratory epithelial cells, which has yet to be identified, is likely to be found on the surface of the cells that faces the tissues rather than the surface that faces the airways, as previously assumed.
Makoto Takeda, at Kyushu University, Japan said that the results of this study should help researchers identify this protein.
The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.