A bite from a rabid animal plunges the rabies virus straight into enemy territory, facing a long and arduous journey to its ultimate target. It travels from the bite mark along peripheral nerves to finally reach the brain. Researchers modelled this using microfluidic devices – special constructs where peripheral nerve cells could grow with their cell bodies (bottom) and neurite projections (top) in separate compartments, joined only by tiny channels (middle) through which neurites could pass. Adding the virus to the neurite compartment, alongside chemicals to block different proteins, revealed that viruses enter cells through ‘pits’ in their membrane coated with the protein clathrin. These pits pinch off into packages that are transported to the cell body using another protein, dynamin. Crucially, efficient infection depends on these packages reaching the cell body. These insights untangle how rabies infection takes hold.
Written by Lux Fatimathas
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