Alphaviros infection can trigger the host cell to activate its genetically programmed cell death pathway, leading to the morphological features of apoptosis. The ability to activate this death pathway is dependent on both viral and cellular determinants. The more virulent strains of alphavirus induce apoptosis with increased efficiency both in animal models and in some cultured cells. Although the immune system clearly plays a central role in clearing virus, the importance of other cellular factors in determining the outcome of virus infections are evident from the observation that mature neurons are better able to resist alphavirus-induced apoptosis than immature neurons are, both in culture and in mouse brains. These findings are consistent with the age-dependent susceptibility to disease seen in animals. Cellular genes that are known to regulate the cell death pathway can modulate the outcome of alphavirus infection in cultured cells and perhaps in animals. The cellular bax and bak genes, which are known to accelerate cell death, also accelerate virus-induced apoptosis. In contrast, inhibitors of apoptotic cell death such as bcl-2 suppress virus-induced apoptosis, which can facilitate a persistent virus infection. Thus, the balance of cellular factors that regulate cell death may be critical in virus infections. Additional vital factors also contribute to this balance. The more virulent strains of alphavirus have acquired the ability to induce apoptosis in mature neurons, while mature neurons are resistant to cell death upon infection with less virulent strains. Here we discuss a variety of cellular and vital factors that modulate the outcome of virus infection.
- Virus persistence
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