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Rubella Virus: Structure and Function

Instructor: Jeremy Battista
The vaccines that children are given are meant to prevent their getting sick. One of the vaccines they get is the MMR shot, meant to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. You may have heard of measles and mumps, but what is rubella? We discuss this further.

What Is The Rubella Virus?

The Rubella virus is the virus that causes the viral infection, rubella. Rubella is also called German measles and is similar in scope to measles but is also accompanied by a red rash. Rubella itself is a fairly short lived infection, mostly manifested as a low grade fever and in some cases, swollen lymph nodes. The red rash described above also accompanies an infection.

This is what a Rubella rash looks like.
Rubella Rash on back

Young children are vaccinated for the Rubella virus and are given boosters around age 12. This is usually found in the MMR vaccine, which covers measles, mumps, and rubella.

Structure of the Virus

The Rubella virus is an enveloped virus, meaning it does have an envelope on the outside. Viruses of this nature are not quite as virulent as their non-enveloped brethren. The Rubella virus consists of the typical viral components, those being the genetic material in the center, followed by a capsid, , and then the envelope. Different from many other viruses is that there is no tegument between the capsid and envelope.

This is a Rubella virus under an electron microscope.
Rubella Virus Under A Microscope

The genetic material (in this case RNA) is similar in scope to human DNA in that it is the blueprint for the virus which tells the virus what to do, what to look like, etc. This information is also extremely important as it instructs the virus on how and when to replicate or copy and then produce more viruses.

Outside of the genetic material is the capsid. The capsid protects only the RNA of the virus and is shaped like a 20 sided polygon, or icosahedron. The capsid of the Rubella virus has a dedicated capsid protein that is responsible for a number of functions. Its main function is to help the virus and the RNA replicate properly. It also allows for proper virus assembly.

Finally we see the envelope of the virus. There are two jobs of the envelope; to protect the entire virus and to attach to a host cell. Among the cells of the envelope there are small protein projections that act as anchors. They will attach to the host cell, allowing the virus to infect the cell.

Function of the Virus

The genetic material is the entire set of instructions for the virus. Upon anchoring to a cell via the envelope, the virus will get taken into the cell via an endosome. The host cell creates an endosome which is just an organelle that moves material into the host, in this case, viral material. The host cell is now infected.

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