The hemagglutinin (H) protein of measles virus (MeV) interacts with a cellular receptor which constitutes the initial stage of infection. Binding of H to this host cell receptor subsequently triggers the F protein to activate fusion between virus and host plasma membranes. The search for MeV receptors began with vaccine/laboratory virus strains and evolved to more relevant receptors used by wild-type MeV. Vaccine or laboratory strains of measles virus have been adapted to grow in common cell lines such as Vero and HeLa cells, and were found to use membrane cofactor protein (CD46) as a receptor. CD46 is a regulator that normally prevents cells from complement-mediated self-destruction, and is found on the surface of all human cells, with the exception of erythrocytes. Mutations in the H protein, which occur during adaptation and allow the virus to use CD46 as a receptor, have been identified. Wild-type isolates of measles virus cannot use the CD46 receptor. However, both vaccine/laboratory and wild-type strains can use an immune cell receptor called signaling lymphocyte activation molecule family member 1 (SLAMF1; also called CD150) and a recently discovered epithelial receptor known as Nectin-4. SLAMF1 is found on activated B, T, dendritic, and monocyte cells, and is the initial target for infections by measles virus. Nectin-4 is an adherens junction protein found at the basal surfaces of many polarized epithelial cells, including those of the airways. It is also over-expressed on the apical and basal surfaces of many adenocarcinomas, and is a cancer marker for metastasis and tumor survival. Nectin-4 is a secondary exit receptor which allows measles virus to replicate and amplify in the airways, where the virus is expelled from the body in aerosol droplets. The amino acid residues of H protein that are involved in binding to each of the receptors have been identified through X-ray crystallography and site-specific mutagenesis. Recombinant measles “blind” to each of these receptors have been constructed, allowing the virus to selectively infect receptor specific cell lines. Finally, the observations that SLAMF1 is found on lymphomas and that Nectin-4 is expressed on the cell surfaces of many adenocarcinomas highlight the potential of measles virus for oncolytic therapy. Although CD46 is also upregulated on many tumors, it is less useful as a target for cancer therapy, since normal human cells express this protein on their surfaces.
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