Global Hantavirus Research


Global Hantavirus hot spots

This once-obscure group of rodent-borne viruses, known to cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), gained immediate notoriety in the spring of 1993, when an outbreak of a rapidly progressive cardiopulmonary disease erupted in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. That a hantavirus, harbored by a neotomine rodent species identified as a reservoir host a decade earlier, would be responsible for this frequently fatal respiratory disease, now known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), was beyond the collective imagination of clinicians, epidemiologists and medical virologists. The realization that rodent-borne hantaviruses are capable of causing diseases as clinically disparate as HFRS and HPS raises the probability that hantaviruses recently detected in shrews would similarly cause a wide spectrum of disease. In-depth studies on the transmission dynamics and infectivity of Imjin virus (MJNV), recently isolated from the Ussuri shrew (Crocidura lasiura) in South Korea, may provide clues about its pathogenicity, as well as useful reagents to more rapidly diagnose future outbreaks of newly recognized diseases caused by emerging hantaviruses.

The primary objectives of this research are to determine the intraspecies transmission of MJNV and to ascertain its importance to human health and disease. Our central hypothesis is that MJNV is the prototype of a large clade of shrew-borne hantaviruses, which have co-evolved with their reservoir hosts and which are capable of causing infection, and possibly disease, in humans. This research is innovative in that it challenges the long-held dogma that rodents are the sole reservoir hosts of hantaviruses. Newfound information about the evolutionary origin, host range and disease potential of MJNV will provide insights into the complex co-evolutionary history and host-parasite relationship of hantaviruses, which may lead ultimately to identifying the molecular determinants of hantavirus pathogenicity and tissue targeting.

This research is supported by grant to Dr. Richard Yanagihara from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01AI075057), National Institutes of Health.

The Primary Investigator, Dr. Richard Yanagihara, is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, completed pediatric residency at the University of Colorado and the University of California, San Francisco, and received fellowship training in clinical infectious diseases at the University of Colorado Health Science Center and post-doctoral training in virology at the National Institutes of Health. Formerly, as a tenured intramural NIH investigator, his research has been conducted largely in the context of exploiting naturally occurring paradigms of high-incidence ‘place diseases’ in populations isolated by virtue of genetics, culture and/or geography. Active collaborations are underway in France, Poland, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.