What is the function of spikes on a virus?


Quick Answer

Spikes made of the glycoprotein hemagglutinin, or H spikes, enable viruses to latch onto their host cells, while N spikes, those made of the glycoprotein neuraminidase, enable viruses to escape their host cells upon reaching maturity, explains Midlands Technical College. These spikes are found on enveloped viruses.

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Full Answer

One virus that possesses both H spikes and N spikes is the influenza virus, which exists in Type A, B and C forms based on the different protein and nucleic acid makeup of the virus, notes the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Influenza Type A has been responsible for several global outbreaks of the flu throughout history, and Type A viruses can contain 16 subtypes of H spikes and nine N-spike subtypes. The name of an influenza strain indicates which spike subtypes it contains. Thus, the H1N1 virus responsible for the swine flu contains subtype one H spikes and subtype one N spikes.

The envelope found on a spiked virus originates from its host cell's plasma membrane, notes the National Cancer Institute. Via a process biologists call "budding off," a new virus particle breaks free from the inside of the host cell with the help of the N spikes of mature viruses, explains JRank's science encyclopedia. While it escapes the host cell, it becomes wrapped up in part of the cell's membrane.

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