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January 17, 2007

Another H5N1 paper that tells us what we thought we knew was wrong

There once was a nice tidy story about why avian influenza viruses infected birds and human influenza viruses infected humans and pigs were the "mixing vessel" that brought them together so they could reassort their genetic innards. It went something like this. The avian virus can only attach to and thus infect cells that have a specific kind of receptor on their surface. The receptor was a terminal sialic acid with a particular linkage to the underlying cellular glycoprotein (for more on this see our four part primer on glycoproteins beginning here). For birds the linkage was designated α2,3NeuAc and for humans it was α2,6NeuAc. Pigs had both in their respiratory tract so either virus could infect them. Hence the "mixing vessel." Not.

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Posted by dymaxion at January 17, 2007 09:59 PM

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