Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but you have almost certainly encountered human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Its viral ‘cousins’ include mumps and measles although RSV goes straight to our lungs. Most people have been exposed to it by the age of three, with mild cases being indistinguishable from the common cold. In vulnerable infants and the elderly, however, it can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia. One feature of the disease is that infected cells (tagged in green in this image) fuse together forming giant cells or syncytia, like the one in the centre. Each has more than one nucleus (nuclei of infected and healthy cells are stained blue). By culturing bronchial epithelial cells on special protein-coated surfaces researchers have created a laboratory model to mimic the lining of the lungs. This will be used to study RSV for which there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment.
Written by Sarah McLusky
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