Eukaryotic cells have evolved a myriad of ion channels, transporters, and pumps to maintain and regulate transmembrane ion gradients. As intracellular parasites, viruses also have evolved ion channel proteins, called viroporins, which disrupt normal ionic homeostasis to promote viral replication and pathogenesis. The first viral ion channel (influenza M2 protein) was confirmed only 23 years ago, and since then studies on M2 and many other viroporins have shown they serve critical functions in virus entry, replication, morphogenesis, and immune evasion. As new candidate viroporins and viroporin-mediated functions are being discovered, we review the experimental criteria for viroporin identification and characterization to facilitate consistency within this field of research. Then we review recent studies on how the few Ca(2+)-conducting viroporins exploit host signaling pathways, including store-operated Ca(2+) entry, autophagy, and inflammasome activation. These viroporin-induced aberrant Ca(2+) signals cause pathophysiological changes resulting in diarrhea, vomiting, and proinflammatory diseases, making both the viroporin and host Ca(2+) signaling pathways potential therapeutic targets for antiviral drugs.
Keywords: autophagy; calcium homeostasis; inflammasome; store-operated calcium entry; viroporin.