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Viruses: Microbial Spies and Saboteurs

Rosenthal, Ken S. PhD

Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice:
doi: 10.1097/
Immunology/Microbiology for ID

Every virus shares the same mission, to find a suitable host, subvert the host cells into virus-producing factories, and then spread within and to new hosts. A virus that fails at their mission is eliminated. In pursuit of their mission, viruses can be likened to spies and saboteurs. The mission requires that viruses be able to evade or override the molecular alarms, which are set off by viral structures and activities, the roadblocks and traps within the cell that are set to prevent the production of more viruses, and the innate and immune detection and weapon systems dedicated to restrict the replication and spread of these microbial spies. Viral protein synthesis is both the trigger for establishing and a prominent step in virus replication that is targeted by the major roadblocks set up by the cell to counter the viral mission. Successful viruses have developed specific molecular tools to overcome these and other host defenses. Using the espionage analogy, this review will describe the cellular and systemic protections developed by humans against virus replication and spread and the molecular tools that viruses have developed to override or evade these blocks.

Author Information

Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Rootstown, OH.

Supported by the NIAID, National Institutes of Health.

This is the third in a continuing series of articles in the new Immunology and Microbiology: Clinical Correlations section. The purpose of this section is to highlight basic science explanations for microbial disease, disease signs, and symptoms, immunology, and interventions. We welcome your input regarding potential topics for discussion, and they can be relayed to my e-mail address,

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Ken S. Rosenthal, PhD, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, 4209 SR 44, Rootstown, OH 44272. E-mail:

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.