Virus inactivation mechanisms: impact of disinfectants on virus function and structural integrity

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Nov 6;46(21):12069-78. doi: 10.1021/es3029473. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


Oxidative processes are often harnessed as tools for pathogen disinfection. Although the pathways responsible for bacterial inactivation with various biocides are fairly well understood, virus inactivation mechanisms are often contradictory or equivocal. In this study, we provide a quantitative analysis of the total damage incurred by a model virus (bacteriophage MS2) upon inactivation induced by five common virucidal agents (heat, UV, hypochlorous acid, singlet oxygen, and chlorine dioxide). Each treatment targets one or more virus functions to achieve inactivation: UV, singlet oxygen, and hypochlorous acid treatments generally render the genome nonreplicable, whereas chlorine dioxide and heat inhibit host-cell recognition/binding. Using a combination of quantitative analytical tools, we identified unique patterns of molecular level modifications in the virus proteins or genome that lead to the inhibition of these functions and eventually inactivation. UV and chlorine treatments, for example, cause site-specific capsid protein backbone cleavage that inhibits viral genome injection into the host cell. Combined, these results will aid in developing better methods for combating waterborne and foodborne viral pathogens and further our understanding of the adaptive changes viruses undergo in response to natural and anthropogenic stressors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chlorine Compounds / pharmacology
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Disinfection / methods
  • Escherichia coli / virology
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Hypochlorous Acid / pharmacology
  • Levivirus / drug effects
  • Levivirus / physiology*
  • Levivirus / radiation effects
  • Oxides / pharmacology
  • Singlet Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Viral Proteins / drug effects
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism
  • Viral Proteins / radiation effects
  • Virus Inactivation* / drug effects
  • Virus Inactivation* / radiation effects


  • Chlorine Compounds
  • Disinfectants
  • Oxides
  • Viral Proteins
  • Singlet Oxygen
  • Hypochlorous Acid
  • chlorine dioxide