Tag Archives: virology

Now in 3D: Video of virus-sized particle trying to enter cell (Nature Nanotechnology)

Video of virus trying to enter cell

3D movie (below) of virus-like nanoparticle trying to gain entry to a cell

By Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

Tiny and swift, viruses are hard to capture on video. Now researchers at Princeton University have achieved an unprecedented look at a virus-like particle as it tries to break into and infect a cell. The technique they developed could help scientists learn more about how to deliver drugs via nanoparticles — which are about the same size as viruses — as well as how to prevent viral infection from occurring.

The video reveals a virus-like particle zipping around in a rapid, erratic manner until it encounters a cell, bounces and skids along the surface, and either lifts off again or, in much less time than it takes to blink an eye, slips into the cell’s interior. The work was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Video caption: ‘Kiss and run’ on the cell surface. This 3D movie shows actual footage of a virus-like particle (red dot) approaching a cell (green with reddish brown nucleus), as captured by Princeton University researchers Kevin Welcher and Haw Yang. The color of the particle represents its speed, with red indicating rapid movement and blue indicating slower movement. The virus-like particle lands on the surface of the cell, appears to try to enter it, then takes off again. Source: Nature Nanotechnology.

“The challenge in imaging these events is that viruses and nanoparticles are small and fast, while cells are relatively large and immobile,” said Kevin Welsher, a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton’s Department of Chemistry and first author on the study. “That has made it very hard to capture these interactions.”

The problem can be compared to shooting video of a hummingbird as it roams around a vast garden, said Haw Yang, associate professor of chemistry and Welsher’s adviser. Focus the camera on the fast-moving hummingbird, and the background will be blurred. Focus on the background, and the bird will be blurred.

The researchers solved the problem by using two cameras, one that locked onto the virus-like nanoparticle and followed it faithfully, and another that filmed the cell and surrounding environment.

Putting the two images together yielded a level of detail about the movement of nano-sized particles that has never before been achieved, Yang said. Prior to this work, he said, the only way to see small objects at a similar resolution was to use a technique called electron microscopy, which requires killing the cell.

“What Kevin has done that is really different is that he can capture a three-dimensional view of a virus-sized particle attacking a living cell, whereas electron microscopy is in two-dimensions and on dead cells,” Yang said. “This gives us a completely new level of understanding.”

In addition to simply viewing the particle’s antics, the researchers can use the technique to map the contours of the cell surface, which is bumpy with proteins that push up from beneath the surface. By following the particle’s movement along the surface of the cell, the researchers were able to map the protrusions, just as a blind person might use his or her fingers to construct an image of a person’s face.

“Following the motion of the particle allowed us to trace very fine structures with a precision of about 10 nanometers, which typically is only available with an electron microscope,” Welsher said. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter and roughly 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.) He added that measuring changes in the speed of the particle allowed the researchers to infer the viscosity of the extracellular environment just above the cell surface.

The technology has potential benefits for both drug discovery and basic scientific discovery, Yang said.  “We believe this will impact the study of how nanoparticles can deliver medicines to cells, potentially leading to some new lines of defense in antiviral therapies,” he said. “For basic research, there are a number of questions that can now be explored, such as how a cell surface receptor interacts with a viral particle or with a drug.”

Welsher added that such basic research could lead to new strategies for keeping viruses from entering cells in the first place.

“If we understand what is happening to the virus before it gets to your cells,” said Welsher, “then we can think about ways to prevent infection altogether. It is like deflecting missiles before they get there rather than trying to control the damage once you’ve been hit.”

To create the virus-like particle, the researchers coated a miniscule polystyrene ball with quantum dots, which are semiconductor bits that emit light and allow the camera to find the particle. Next, the particle was studded with protein segments known as Tat peptides, derived from the HIV-1 virus, which help the particle find the cell. The width of the final particle was about 100 nanometers.

The researchers then let loose the particles into a dish containing skin cells known as fibroblasts. One camera followed the particle while a second imaging system took pictures of the cell using a technique called laser scanning microscopy, which involves taking multiple images, each in a slightly different focal plane, and combining them to make a three-dimensional picture.

The research was supported by the US Department of Energy (DE-SC0006838) and by Princeton University.

Read the abstract.

Kevin Welsher and Haw Yang. 2014. Multi-resolution 3D visualization of the early stages of cellular uptake of peptide-coated nanoparticles. Nature nanotechnology. Published online: 23 February 2014 | DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2014.12

New mouse model for hepatitis C (Nature)

By Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

Hepatitis C affects about three million people in the U.S. and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease, so creating a vaccine and new treatments is an important public health goal. Most research to date has been done in chimpanzees because they are one of a handful of species that become infected and spread the virus.

Now researchers led by Alexander Ploss of Princeton University and Charles Rice of the Rockefeller University have generated a mouse that can become infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).  They reported the advance in the Sept 12 issue of the journal Nature. “The entire life cycle of the virus — from infection of liver cells to viral replication, assembly of new particles, and release from the infected cell — occurs in these mice,” said Ploss, who joined the Princeton faculty in July 2013 as assistant professor of molecular biology.

Ploss and his colleagues have been working for some time on the challenge of creating a small animal model for studying the disease. Four years ago, while at the Rockefeller University in New York, Ploss and Rice identified two human proteins, known as CD81 and occludin, that enable mouse cells to become infected with HCV (Nature 2009). In a follow up study Ploss and colleagues showed that a mouse engineered to express these human proteins could become infected with HCV, although the animals could not spread the virus (Nature 2011).

In the present study, which included colleagues at Osaka University and the Scripps Research Institute, the researchers bred the human-protein-containing mice with another strain that had a defective immune system – one that could not easily rid the body of viruses. The resulting mice not only become infected, but could potentially pass the virus to other susceptible mice.

The availability of this new way to study HCV could help researchers discover new vaccines and treatments, although Ploss cautioned that more work needs to be done to refine the model.

The study was supported in part by award number RC1DK087193 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; R01AI072613, R01AI099284, and R01AI079031 from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease; R01CA057973 from the National Cancer Institute; and several foundations and contributors, as well as the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American Liver Foundation.

Read the abstract

Marcus Dorner, Joshua A. Horwitz, Bridget M. Donovan, Rachael N. Labitt, William C. Budell, Tamar Friling, Alexander Vogt, Maria Teresa Catanese, Takashi Satoh, Taro Kawai, Shizuo Akira, Mansun Law, Charles Rice & Alexander Ploss. 2013. Completion of the entire hepatitis C virus life cycle in genetically humanized mice. Nature 501, 237–241 (First published online on 31 July 2013)  doi:10.1038/nature12427.

 

Shingles symptoms may be caused by neuronal short circuit (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

By Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

Neurons firing in synchrony could be responsible for pain, itch in shingles and herpes infection. Click to view movie. (Source: PNAS)

The pain and itching associated with shingles and herpes may be due to the virus causing a “short circuit” in the nerve cells that reach the skin, Princeton researchers have found.

This short circuit appears to cause repetitive, synchronized firing of nerve cells, the researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This cyclical firing may be the cause of the persistent itching and pain that are symptoms of oral and genital herpes as well as shingles and chicken pox, according to the researchers.

These diseases are all caused by viruses of the herpes family. Understanding how these viruses cause discomfort could lead to better strategies for treating symptoms.

The team studied what happens when a herpes virus infects neurons. For research purposes the investigators used a member of the herpes family called pseudorabies virus. Previous research indicated that these viruses can drill tiny holes in neurons, which pass messages in the form of electrical signals along long conduits known as axons.

The researchers’ findings indicate that electrical current can leak through these holes, or fusion pores, and spread to nearby neurons that were similarly damaged, causing the neurons to fire all at once rather than as needed. The pores were likely created for the purpose of infecting new cells, the researchers said.

Researchers at Princeton University imaged the synchronized, repetitive firing of herpes-infected neurons in a region known as the submandibular ganglia (SMG) between the salivary glands and the brain in mice. Image source: PNAS.

Researchers at Princeton University imaged the synchronized, repetitive firing of herpes-infected neurons in a region known as the submandibular ganglia (SMG) between the salivary glands and the brain in mice. (Source: PNAS)

The investigators observed the cyclical firing of neurons in a region called the submandibular ganglia between the salivary glands and the brain in mice using a technique called 2-photon microscopy and dyes that flash brightly when neurons fire. (Movie of synchronized firing of herpes-infected neurons.)

The team found that two viral proteins appear to work together to cause the simultaneous firing, according to Andréa Granstedt, who received her Ph.D. in molecular biology at Princeton in 2013 and is the first author on the article.  The team was led by Lynn Enquist, Princeton’s Henry L. Hillman Professor in Molecular Biology and a member of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Each colored line and number on the right represents an individual neuron. The overlapping peaks indicate synchronized firing of neurons, which occurs when electrical current is able to leak from one neuron to the next. (Source: PNAS)

The first of these two proteins is called glycoprotein B, a fusion protein that drills the holes in the axon wall. A second protein, called Us9, acts as a shuttle that sends glycoprotein B into axons, according to the researchers. “The localization of glycoprotein B is crucial,” Granstedt said. “If glycoprotein B is present but not in the axons, the synchronized flashing won’t happen.”

The researchers succeeded in stopping the short circuit from occurring in engineered viruses that lacked the gene for either glycoprotein B or Us9. Such genetically altered viruses are important as research tools, Enquist said.

Finding a way to block the activity of the proteins could be a useful strategy for treating the pain and itching associated with herpes viral diseases, Enquist said. “If you could block fusion pore formation, you could stop the generation of the signal that is causing pain and discomfort,” he said.

Granstedt conducted the experiments with Jens-Bernhard Bosse, a postdoctoral research associate in molecular biology. Assistance with 2-photon microscopy was provided by Stephan Thiberge, director of the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

The team previously observed the synchronized firing in laboratory-grown neurons (PLoS Pathogens, 2009), but the new study expands on the previous work by observing the process in live mice and including the contribution of Us9, Granstedt said.

Shingles, which is caused by the virus herpes zoster and results in a painful rash, will afflict almost one out of three people in the United States over their lifetime. Genital herpes, which is caused by herpes simplex virus-2, affects about one out of six people ages 14 to 49 years in the United States, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This research was funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grants NS033506 and NS060699. The Imaging Core Facility at the Lewis-Sigler Institute is funded by NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences Center Grant PM50 GM071508.

Read the abstract

Granstedt, Andréa E., Jens B. Bosse, Stephan Y. Thiberge, and Lynn W. Enquist. 2013. In vivo imaging of alphaherpesvirus infection reveals synchronized activity dependent on axonal sorting of viral proteins. PNAS 2013 ; published ahead of print August 26, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1311062110

Herpes viruses commandeer protein production to storm neurons (Cell Host and Microbe)

By Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

Viruses in the herpes family most commonly found in humans infect nervous system cells by “turning on” and then seizing control of the internal system these cells rely on to sense injury, among other signaling functions.

Princeton University researchers report in the journal Cell Host and Microbe that the pseudorabies virus (PRV) — a model herpes virus that infects animals — initiates and commandeers protein production in axons, the long offshoots of the cell body that connect neurons to other neurons and to tissue. After entering the neuron at the axon, the virus particles — which deliver the viral DNA that infects host cells — use the newly made proteins to travel to and infect the cell nucleus. Once there, the infection can spread to other neurons.

The research is the latest from the laboratory of senior researcher Lynn Enquist, the Henry L. Hillman Professor in Molecular Biology, to unravel the puzzling efficiency with which PRV and related herpes viruses invade the nervous system. PRV is an alpha-herpes virus, a prolific herpes subfamily that includes herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), an extremely common human virus that causes cold sores and other lesions.

In the current paper, the researchers write that PRV “cleverly exploited” a natural cell process to speed up infection, a theme that resonates in past work from the Enquist lab on alpha-herpes viruses. In 2012, another researcher in the lab reported in Cell Host and Microbe that PRV and HSV-1 infections affect movement of neuronal mitochondria, the mobile organelles that regulate a cell’s energy supply, communication, and self-destruction response to infection.

For this newest research, Enquist worked with lead author Orkide Koyuncu, a postdoctoral research associate in molecular biology, and David Perlman, head of the molecular biology department’s mass spectrometry facility. They suggest that PRV particles first replicate in non-neuronal (such as skin and other tissue) cells at the site of body entry. The particles then enter axon terminals as the axon carries out its regular status-reports with those cells. The process of viral-particle entry is sensed by the neuron as a damage signal, which begins the protein production that will carry the virus particles to the nucleus.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered that the movement of incoming virus particles was disrupted by a genuine damage signal initiated before PRV infection. They hypothesized that the immediate response spurred by injury, infection or inflammation slows down other processes within the axon, which the researchers call “competitive inhibition.” When the molecular details of this crosstalk are fully understood, these signals could be used clinically to prevent the spread of alpha-herpes viruses.

Read the paper.

Citation: Koyuncu, Orkide O., David H. Perlman, Lynn W. Enquist. 2013. Efficient Retrograde Transport of Pseudorabies Virus within Neurons Requires Local Protein Synthesis in Axons. Cell Host & Microbe Vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 54-66.

This work was supported by U.S. National Institutes of Health grant R01NS033506-18.