Source of measles' quick spread discovered

Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered why measles spreads so quickly and have published their results online to give other researchers insight into why some respiratory viruses spread more quickly and easily than others.
The measles virus emerges in the trachea of its host, which provokes a cough that fills the air with particles that are ready to infect the next host. The findings, published in Nature, may also be helpful in the fight against breast, ovarian and lung cancers.
The researchers found that the measles virus uses a protein, nectin-4, in the host to infect and then leave from the strategic location of the throat. Despite the development of a measles vaccine, the virus continues to affect more than 10 million children each year and kills approximately 120,000 worldwide.
"The measles virus has developed a strategy of diabolic elegance," Roberto Cattaneo, a principal investigator of the study and Mayo Clinic molecular biologist, said. "It first hijacks immune cells patrolling the lungs to get into the host. It then travels within other immune cells everywhere in the body. However, the infected immune cells deliver their cargo specifically to those cells that express the protein nectin-4, the new receptor. Remarkably, those cells are located in the trachea. Thus, the virus emerges from the host exactly where needed to facilitate contagion."
Nectin-4 is a biomarker of several types of cancer, including breast, ovarian and lung cancer. Clinical trials are underway that use measles and other viruses to attack cancer. Because measles actively targets nectin-4, measles-based cancer therapy may be more successful in patients who have cancer that expresses nectin-4. Modified viruses could be a less toxic alternative to chemotherapy and radiation.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by grant agencies in France, Canada, Germany and Singapore.

Organizations in this story

National Institutes of Health 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892

Get notified the next time we write about National Institutes of Health!