Adenoviruses have a plethora of advantages for researchers over alternative viral vectors, the first of which is their infection efficiency, this means that they are able to infect a wide range of cell types, including both dividing and non-dividing cells. Additionally, they are able to carry a large amount of genetic information, up to that of 8 kilobases of DNA, making them suitable to deliver multiple genes or larger, more complex therapeutic genes. Adenoviruses also present low pathogenicity, meaning that they are safe to use, this is particularly useful for gene therapy since often, the host immune system is already compromised and therefore, further, uncontrolled infection could result in further complications.
Adenoviruses can be characterised by their icosahedral (20 sided) capsid, which is composed of proteins called hexons and pentons. This capsid surrounds the viral genome within, thus protecting the linear double-stranded DNA it contains. The size of the contained genome can vary between each different type of adenovirus, depending on the presence or absence of additional genes and the number of copies.
These viruses have a large number of applications in research, particularly more contemporary research surrounding gene therapy, but spans much broader. Gene therapy itself is a technique that involves the delivery of a genetic material into cells to treat or prevent diseases, thus providing the patient with a better quality of life. Adenoviruses themselves have been utilised as a working vector in order to deliver this genetic material to fight a range of conditions including cancer and cystic fibrosis. For more information on gene editing, please visit our focus areas regarding this.
Prior to gene therapy, researchers required insight into which genes require “knocking-out” since they could be the underlying reason for disease. To do so, scientists may introduce a gene that causes disease to enter the host cells to study the molecular mechanisms of the disease. Analysis is then carried out to ensure the correct genes are altered, resulting in more functional immunity to the targeted disease.
Another way researchers use adenovirus vectors is to study the mechanisms of viral pathogenesis, which is the study of how viruses cause disease. By introducing adenoviruses into cells and studying the interactions between the virus and the host cells, scientists can gain a better understanding of viral replication, evade the host's immune response, and cause damage to the host. This can provide insight into the mechanisms of viral disease and provide information that contributes to the development of new antiviral therapies.
Additionally to working as a vector for gene therapy, adenoviruses can be used for vaccine development. Similar to that of gene therapy, adenoviruses act as a suitable vector to deliver the small amount of antigens required to trigger the immune response. This method prevents the body from extensive harm whilst preparing the body for a more significant exposure when in real-life situations. This is because of the memory cells synthesised as a result of this minor viral exposure, namely T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. For more information on the topic of vaccines as well as an overview to antigens, please visit our focus area regarding this.
In conclusion, adenoviruses have been widely used in research as vectors for delivering genetic material into cells for the study of gene function and regulation, mechanisms of viral pathogenesis, and host immunity to virus infection. These applications have many advantages and have led to a better understanding of how viruses cause disease and how the immune system fights against them.
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