Giant viruses of amoebae as potential human pathogens

Intervirology. 2013;56(6):376-85. doi: 10.1159/000354558. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


Giant viruses infecting phagocytic protists are composed of mimiviruses, the record holders of particle and genome size amongst viruses, and marseilleviruses. Since the discovery in 2003 at our laboratory of the first of these giant viruses, the Mimivirus, a growing body of data has revealed that they are common inhabitants of our biosphere. Moreover, from the outset, the story of Mimivirus has been linked to that of patients exhibiting pneumonia and it was shown that patients developed antibodies to this amoebal pathogen. Since then, there have been several proven cases of human infection or colonization with giant viruses of amoebae, which are known to host several bacteria that are human pathogens. Mimiviruses and marseilleviruses represent a major challenge in human pathology, as virological procedures implemented to date have not used appropriate media to allow their culture, and molecular techniques have used filtration steps that likely prevented their detection. Nevertheless, there is an increasing body of evidence that mimiviruses might cause pneumonia and that humans carry marseilleviruses, and re-analyses of metagenomic databases have provided evidence that these giant viruses can be common in human samples. The proportion of human infections related to these giant mimiviruses and marseilleviruses and the precise short- and long-term consequences of these infections have been scarcely investigated so far and should be the subject of future works.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amoeba / virology*
  • Humans
  • Mimiviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology*