Measles virus (MV), a member of the genus Morbillivirus in the family Paramyxoviridae, is an enveloped virus with a non-segmented, negative-strand RNA genome. It has two envelope glycoproteins, the haemagglutinin (H) and fusion proteins, which are responsible for attachment and membrane fusion, respectively. Human signalling lymphocyte activation molecule (SLAM; also called CD150), a membrane glycoprotein of the immunoglobulin superfamily, acts as a cellular receptor for MV. SLAM is expressed on immature thymocytes, activated lymphocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells and regulates production of interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-13 by CD4+ T cells, as well as production of IL-12, tumour necrosis factor alpha and nitric oxide by macrophages. The distribution of SLAM is in accord with the lymphotropism and immunosuppressive nature of MV. Canine distemper virus and Rinderpest virus, other members of the genus Morbillivirus, also use canine and bovine SLAM as receptors, respectively. Laboratory-adapted MV strains may use the ubiquitously expressed CD46, a complement-regulatory molecule, as an alternative receptor through amino acid substitutions in the H protein. Furthermore, MV can infect SLAM- cells, albeit inefficiently, via the SLAM- and CD46-independent pathway, which may account for MV infection of epithelial, endothelial and neuronal cells in vivo. MV infection, however, is not determined entirely by the H protein-receptor interaction, and other MV proteins can also contribute to its efficient growth by facilitating virus replication at post-entry steps. Identification of SLAM as the principal receptor for MV has provided us with an important clue for better understanding of MV tropism and pathogenesis.
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