Three-dimensional measles model aids in life cycle understanding

Scientists studying measles have developed a new three-dimensional model of the virus that helps explain some unaccounted for observations in its life cycle.

The new model was developed by a team led by Sarah Butcher of the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Biotechnology. Their findings were reported in the October issue of the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to

The measles virus is part of a family of viruses that are considered pleomorphically enveloped, meaning the members contain a “matrix” protein thought previously to line the inside of the virus envelope. It was thought that this protein played a major role in how the virus buds from inside a host cell.

Butcher’s team has determined that the matrix actually exists in helical tubes inside the virus that are wrapped around the viral genome. The matrix, therefore, appears to help compact the genome so that it can fit inside the virus.

The team said that the matrix is capable of initiating viral replication inside the host cell and is responsible for the movement of the genome within the cell as the virus assembles itself, reports.

The three dimensional model was constructed using modern electron cryo-cryptography and image processing, a method considered analogous to X-ray tomography of the human body.

Lassi Liljeroos, a PhD student in Butcher’s group, now plans to use similar techniques to determine the structures of other related viruses. It is thought that measles might be structurally similar to other viruses that cause respiratory infections, like influenza and the RS-virus.