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Scientists Identify Infection Strategy of Widespread Virus

Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have mapped the molecular mechanism by which a virus known as cytomegalovirus (CMV) so successfully infects its hosts. This discovery paves the way for new research avenues aimed at fighting this and other seemingly benign viruses that can turn deadly.

Not all viruses are created equal. Some ravage the body quickly, while others — after an initial infection — lie dormant for decades. CMV is one of the eight types of human herpes viruses, a family of viruses that also include Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis) and varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox), and it is one of the world’s most rampant.

And like other successful viruses, CMV maintains a few key features: it replicates quickly, it evades the host’s immune defenses and it keeps the host cell alive just long enough to produce optimal amounts of virus. This last feature helps prevent the virus from building up to toxic levels inside a cell — an action that would kill the cell before the virus had a chance to spread to neighboring cells. To achieve this delicate balance, CMV applies a "braking mechanism" after initial replication inside the cell. But the underlying process behind this mechanism has long eluded scientists.

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