Principles of Virus Uncoating: Cues and the Snooker Ball

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The architecture of a virus particle allows timely release of the viral genome in a host cell during entry. This critical step is known as viral uncoating. It is regulated by cues from receptors, enzymes and chemicals, and facilitated by factors that do not contact the virion directly. This review covers a wide range of cellular processes that enhance viral uncoating. The underlying mechanisms provide deep insights into cell biological and immunological processes of virus–host interactions and infections.

Viruses are spherical or complex shaped carriers of proteins, nucleic acids and sometimes lipids and sugars. They are metastable and poised for structural changes. These features allow viruses to communicate with host cells during entry, and to release the viral genome, a process known as uncoating. Studies have shown that hundreds of host factors directly or indirectly support this process. The cell provides molecules that promote stepwise virus uncoating, and direct the virus to the site of replication. It acts akin to a snooker player who delivers accurate and timely shots (cues) to the ball (virus) to score. The viruses, on the other hand, trick (snooker) the host, hijack its homeostasis systems, and dampen innate immune responses directed against danger signals. In this review, we discuss how cellular cues, facilitators, and built-in viral mechanisms promote uncoating. Cues come from receptors, enzymes and chemicals that act directly on the virus particle to alter its structure, trafficking and infectivity. Facilitators are defined as host factors that are involved in processes which indirectly enhance entry or uncoating. Unraveling the mechanisms of virus uncoating will continue to enhance understanding of cell functions, and help counteracting infections with chemicals and vaccines.

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