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Curr Opin Virol. 2011 Oct;1(4):282-8. doi: 10.1016/j.coviro.2011.07.006.

From orphan virus to pathogen: the path to the clinical lab.

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  • 1Blood Systems Research Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA.


Viral metagenomics has recently yielded numerous previously uncharacterized viral genomes from human and animal samples. We review some of the metagenomics tools and strategies to determine which orphan viruses are likely pathogens. Disease association studies compare viral prevalence in patients with unexplained symptoms versus healthy individuals but require these case and control groups to be closely matched epidemiologically. The development of an antibody response in convalescent serum can temporarily link symptoms with a recent infection. Neutralizing antibody detection require often difficult cell culture virus amplification. Antibody binding assays require proper antigen synthesis and positive control sera to set assay thresholds. High levels of viral genetic diversity within orphan viral groups, frequent co-infections, low or rare pathogenicity, and chronic virus shedding, can all complicate disease association studies. The limited availability of matched cases and controls sample sets from different age groups and geographic origins is a major block for estimating the pathogenic potential of recently characterized orphan viruses. Current limitations on the practical use of deep sequencing for viral diagnostics are listed.


disease association; orphan virus; viral metagenomics; virus discovery

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