Poliovirus is a member of the Picornavirus family, positive strand ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses responsible for many human and animal diseases. The atomic structure of poliovirus was solved in the 1980s. Classification is now based on genomic sequences. The growth cycle of polio involves attachment to a specific receptor found only in the Old World monkeys and the higher primates. The viral proteins are translated as a single large precursor that is then cleaved by virus‐encoded proteases; initiation of translation is from an internal ribosomal entry site in the 5' noncoding region. The pathogenesis of poliovirus has been intensively studied, although many aspects remain poorly understood. The disease is most likely to be eradicated in the near future through use of vaccines. Of the three serotypes found in nature, wild‐type 2 has not been isolated since 1999 and no wild‐type 3 has been isolated since November 2012.

Key Concepts:

  • Picornaviruses are now classified on the basis of sequence comparisons.

  • Poliomyelitis was rare before the twentieth century when improving hygiene meant that infants were exposed to the virus after maternal antibody had declined.

  • Picornaviruses are classified into different species on the basis of their sequence, and recombination within a species is common.

  • High‐resolution molecular structures of the picornaviruses were obtained by X‐ray crystallography in the mid‐1980s.

  • Polio replication requires a specific receptor site found only in the Old World monkeys and the higher primates. It causes disease only in the higher primates, mostly humans.

  • Poliovirus initiates translation of its genome into protein through an internal ribosome entry site in contrast to most other eukaryotic messenger RNAs where initiation requires a free capped and methylated 5′ terminus.

  • Poliovirus replicates primarily in the gut; however, it also replicates in unidentified tissue types, in addition to the motor neurones of the central nervous system.

  • Live attenuated and killed virus vaccines are both used in controlling and eradicating polio depending on the circumstances.

  • The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is the largest public health initiative aimed at a single human disease in history.

Keywords: picornavirus; enterovirus; positive‐stranded RNA viruses; poliomyelitis; vaccines; immunistaion programmes; replication; pathogenesis

Figure 1.

The poliovirus genome and viral proteins (VPs). The RNA genome of poliovirus is at the top. Processing events for each region of the polyprotein (P1–P3) are indicated in descending order. Abbreviation: NTR, nontranslated region.

Figure 2.

Two‐dimensional representation of the arrangement of three protomers in the poliovirus virion. The location of viral proteins VP1–VP3 within the protomer is indicated, together with the positions of two‐, three‐ and fivefold axes of symmetry.



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Further Reading

Andino R, Boddeker N, Silvera D and Gamarnik AV (1999) Intracellular determinants of picornavirus replication. Trends in Microbiology 7(2): 76–82.

Cherry JD (1998) Enteroviruses: coxsackieviruses, enteroviruses and polioviruses. In: Feigin RD and Cherry JD (eds) Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, pp. 1787–1839. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.

Gromeier M, Bossert B, Arita M, Nomoto A and Wimmer E (1999) Dual stem loops within the poliovirus internal ribosome entry site control neurovirulence. Journal of Virology 73(2): 958–964.

Rotbart HA (ed.) (1995) Human Enterovirus Infections. Washington, DC: American Society for Microbiology Press.

Sarnow P (ed.) (1995) Cap‐Independent Translation. Berlin: Springer.

Web Link

World Health Organisation. www.polioeradication.org/

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Minor, Philip D(Mar 2014) Poliovirus. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001081.pub3]