The gene that allows the Rubella virus to block cell death has been identified by scientists who have also reverse engineered a mutant gene that slows the virus's spread.
Tom Hobman and a team of researchers at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry believed that RNA viruses were able to spread by blocking the pathways in cells that lead to cell suicide, and isolated the responsible gene in Rubella, also known as German measles. They then created a mutant version of this gene that made the virus spread more slowly. These results are reported in PLoS Pathogens.
The Rubella virus is responsible for more birth defects worldwide than any other infectious agent. More generally, RNA viruses also cause many viral diseases in humans, including AIDS, influenza, hepatitis C, West Nile disease and Dengue fever. If these findings are applicable to other viruses, it would give researchers more tools for preventing the rapid spread of disease.
Hobman's team is now studying the West Nile and Dengue viruses to see if these RNA viruses prevent cell suicide in the same way. He hopes the discovery will one day lead to viral infections being limited and shutdown at an earlier stage.