Molecular constraints to interspecies transmission of viral pathogens

Nat Med. 2004 Dec;10(12 Suppl):S77-81. doi: 10.1038/nm1151.


The successful replication of a viral pathogen in a host is a complex process involving many interactions. These interactions develop from the coevolution of pathogen and host and often lead to a species specificity of the virus that can make interspecies transmissions difficult. Nevertheless, viruses do sporadically cross species barriers into other host populations, including humans. In zoonotic infections, many of these interspecies transfer events are dead end, where transmission is confined only to the animal-to-human route but sometimes viruses adapt to enable spread from human to human. A pathogen must overcome many hurdles to replicate successfully in a foreign host. The viral pathogen must enter the host cell, replicate with the assistance of host factors, evade inhibitory host products, exit the first cell and move on to the next, and possibly leave the initial host and transmit to another. Each of these stages may require adaptive changes in the pathogen. Although the factors that influence each stage of the replication and transmission of most agents have not been resolved, the genomics of both hosts and pathogens are now at hand and we have begun to understand some of the molecular changes that enable some viruses to adapt to a new host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Species Specificity
  • Vaccines
  • Virus Diseases / genetics
  • Virus Diseases / prevention & control
  • Virus Diseases / transmission*
  • Viruses*
  • Zoonoses*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Vaccines