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Rev Med Virol. 2009 May;19(3):147-64. doi: 10.1002/rmv.611.

Access of viral proteins to mitochondria via mitochondria-associated membranes.

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Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, Children's Research Institute, Children's National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20010, USA.


By exploiting host cell machineries, viruses provide powerful tools for gaining insight into cellular pathways. Proteins from two unrelated viruses, human CMV (HCMV) and HCV, are documented to traffic sequentially from the ER into mitochondria, probably through the mitochondria-associated membrane (MAM) compartment. The MAM are sites of ER-mitochondrial contact enabling the direct transfer of membrane bound lipids and the generation of high calcium (Ca2+) microdomains for mitochondria signalling and responses to cellular stress. Both HCV core protein and HCMV UL37 proteins are associated with Ca2+ regulation and apoptotic signals. Trafficking of viral proteins to the MAM may allow viruses to manipulate a variety of fundamental cellular processes, which converge at the MAM, including Ca2+ signalling, lipid synthesis and transfer, bioenergetics, metabolic flow, and apoptosis. Because of their distinct topologies and targeted MAM sub-domains, mitochondrial trafficking (albeit it through the MAM) of the HCMV and HCV proteins predictably involves alternative pathways and, hence, distinct targeting signals. Indeed, we found that multiple cellular and viral proteins, which target the MAM, showed no apparent consensus primary targeting sequences. Nonetheless, these viral proteins provide us with valuable tools to access the poorly characterised MAM compartment, to define its cellular constituents and describe how virus infection alters these to its own end. Furthermore, because proper trafficking of viral proteins is necessary for their function, discovering the requirements for MAM to mitochondrial trafficking of essential viral proteins may provide novel targets for the rational design of anti-viral drugs.

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