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Rabies races up nerve cells

Virus may speed to the brain by hitching a ride with a protein

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8:30am, September 2, 2014

FAST TRACK  A nerve cell protein (inset, glowing red) resides throughout the splayed tip of a mouse nerve and ferries the rabies virus (green dots in inset) up cells’ long extensions (green diagonal lines).

The rabies virus may take the express train to the brain.

By hijacking a transporter protein and hitting the gas, the disease-causing rabies virus races up long nerve cells that stretch through the body, researchers report August 28 in PLOS Pathogens.

The new work “is very promising,” says virologist Monique Lafon of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and could give researchers another target in their search for therapies against rabies infections.

With a fatality rate near 100 percent — higher than Ebola — rabies stands among the most deadly diseases in the world. The virus lurks in the saliva of infected animals and passes to humans most commonly through a bite. Then it steals up the nerves and into the brain, killing cells and often triggering bizarre behaviors, such as hyperactivity and a fear of water.

A vaccine can block the infection, but only if given to

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