Whether you become infected by some strains of rotavirus may depend on your blood type. Some strains of rotavirus find their way into the cells of the gastrointestinal tract by recognizing antigens associated with the type A blood group, a finding that represents a new paradigm in understanding how this gut pathogen infects humans, said Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) researchers in an online report published on April 15, 2012 in the journal Nature. Rotavirus is a major intestinal pathogen that is the leading cause of severe dehydration and diarrhea in infants around the world. An estimated 500,000 people worldwide die from the infection annually. The structure of a key part of a strain of the virus known as P provides a clue to how the virus infects human cells, said Dr. B. V. Venkataram Prasad, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at BCM and the report's corresponding author. In strains of rotavirus that infect animals, the top of a spike on the virus attaches to the cell via a glycan (one of many sugars linked together to form complex branched-chain structures) with a terminal molecule of sialic acid. The same did not appear to be true of virus strains that infect humans, and scientists believed the human rotavirus strains were bound to glycans with an internal sialic acid molecule, but they did not know how this occurs. "We wondered how this genotype of rotavirus recognized a cellular glycan," said Dr. Prasad. "With colleagues at Emory (University School of Medicine), we did a glycan array analysis to see which glycans interacted with the top of the virus spike (called VP8*)." The only type of glycan that interacted with VP8* was type A histo-blood group antigen, he said. "That was surprising," he said.
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