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Natural Biology of Polyomavirus Middle T Antigen

American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
  • Article
  • Biology
  • Linguistics


“It has been commented by someone that ‘polyoma’ is an adjective composed of a prefix and suffix, with no root between—a meatless linguistic sandwich” (C. J. Dawe). The very name “polyomavirus” is a vague mantel: a name given before our understanding of these viral agents was clear but implying a clear tumor life-style, as noted by the late C. J. Dawe. However, polyomavirus are not by nature tumor-inducing agents. Since it is the purpose of this review to consider the natural function of middle T antigen (MT), encoded by one of the seemingly crucial transforming genes of polyomavirus, we will reconsider and redefine the virus and its MT gene in the context of its natural biology and function. This review was motivated by our recent in vivo analysis of MT function. Using intranasal inoculation of adult SCID mice, we have shown that polyomavirus can replicate with an MT lacking all functions associated with transformation to similar levels to wild-type virus. These observations, along with an almost indistinguishable replication of all MT mutants with respect to wild-type viruses in adult competent mice, illustrate that MT can have a play subtle role in acute replication and persistence. The most notable effect of MT mutants was in infections of newborns, indicating that polyomavirus may be highly adapted to replication in newborn lungs. It is from this context that our current understanding of this well-studied virus and gene is presented.

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