Measles virus is perhaps the most contagious virus in the world, affecting 10 million children worldwide each year and accounting for 120,000 deaths.
An article published in the Nov. 2, 2011 issue of Nature explains why this virus spreads so rapidly. The discovery by Roberto Cattaneo, Ph.D., at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in collaboration with Veronika von Messling, DVM, at the Centre INRS–Institut Armand-Frappier and research teams at several other universities opens up promising new avenues in cancer treatment.
Measles virus spreads from host to host primarily by respiratory secretions. This mode of transmission explains why the virus spreads so quickly and how it resists worldwide vaccination programs to eradicate it.
The study in Nature shows for the first time how the measles virus “exits” its host via nectin-4, which is found in the trachea. While viruses generally use cellular receptors to trigger and spread infection in the body, measles virus uses one host protein to enter the host and another protein expressed at a strategic site to get out.
Nectin-4 is a biomarker for certain types of cancer, such as breast, ovarian, and lung cancers. Clinical trials are currently under way using a modified measles virus. Because measles virus actively targets nectin-4, measles-based cancer therapy may be more successful in patients whose cancers express nectin-4. Such therapy could be less toxic than chemotherapy or radiation.