Molecular scissors help viruses break out of cells

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Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have snapped the first detailed images of the molecular scissors that let viruses such as HIV bud from infected cells. To break out of host cells and seek new targets, viruses push out from inside, forming bulges in cell membranes. The yellow spirals, shown above, form at the base of the bulges and snip them off, allowing the bulges to break free. A protein normally recycles these scissors too quickly for scientists to get a good look, but Phyllis Hanson, MD, PhD, and her colleagues disabled the recycling protein in cell cultures. They then flash-froze the cells and coated them with an ultrathin film of platinum, making it possible to image the cells with an electron microscope. If scientists can find a way to block these scissors, it could slow the spread of infections. The study appears online in the journal eLife. Hanson is a professor of cell biology and physiology.

(Credit: Phyllis Hanson)