Unlocking Poxviruses

New research from Albright College is helping to unlock the mysteries of poxviruses, which could eventually lead to the development of more effective vaccines.

Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, and student Erin Hand co-authored a study this month in the journal PLOS ONE that seeks to explain why mousepox only infects mice, while similar poxviruses infect multiple species.

The researchers introduced mousepox, also known as ectromelia virus, into a rabbit cell, knowing that it would not replicate on its own. Attempting to help it replicate, they laced the virus with two viral proteins—E3L and K3L—from vaccinia virus, a similar poxvirus that infects many different species.

Though the proteins had no effect and the mousepox virus did not replicate in the rabbit cell, they had succeeded in eliminating two proteins as potential agents to help mousepox replications. “Now researchers can check these two proteins off the list and try something else,” Hersperger says.

The study adds to the body of knowledge surrounding poxviruses, a crucial step toward harnessing them for effective use in vaccines against other viruses.

Certain poxviruses can serve as vaccine vectors, Hersperger explains, or vehicles for delivering vaccines against some of the worst diseases known to man. Vaccinia, the virus from which the proteins in the study were taken, was used to eradicate smallpox.

Researchers believe canarypox could potentially be used to deliver an HIV vaccine. This pox, which infects birds, is not harmful to humans. And some cancer research therapies are exploring how rabbitpox can kill cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue untouched. Mousepox, said Hersperger, could turn out to be a great vaccine vector, too.

"The more we can learn about the factors that cause viruses to replicate in certain cells, the more we can tailor vaccines," he said.

Source Contact Information

Albright College
Assistant Professor of Biology
610-929-6617 (office)