Variola, the agent of smallpox, is a bioterrorist threat, as is monkeypox virus, which also occurs naturally in Africa. Development of countermeasures, in the form of improved vaccines, antiviral drugs, and other therapeutic strategies are a high priority. Recent advances in molecular biology and in animal model development have provided fresh insight into the virulence determinants for smallpox and the pathophysiology of disease. The complex replication cycle for orthopoxviruses, and the pivotal role for viralspecific immunomodulatory proteins which contribute to escape from immunologic surveillance, provide many unique targets for therapeutic intervention. The "toxemia" of smallpox has been elucidated in part by variola-infected primate studies which revealed the central role of apoptosis and the evolution of a cytokine storm leading to hemorrhagic diathesis, resembling fulminent "black" smallpox. This suggests a potential role for therapeutic strategies developed for septic shock, in treatment of smallpox. Drugs licensed for other viruses which share molecular targets with orthopoxviruses (e.g. Cidofovir) or cancer drugs (e.g. Gleevec and other tyrosine kinase inhibitors) have immediate application for treatment of smallpox and monkeypox and provide leads for second generation drugs with higher therapeutic indices. Recent advances in identification of virulence determinants and immune evasion genes facilitate the design of alternative vaccines to replace live vaccinia strains that are unsuitable for a large proportion of individuals in a mass immunization campaign.
Keywords: DNA viruses, intracellular enveloped virion (IEV), interferon (IFN) system, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, immunomodulatory genes, TLR signaling
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