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Biology LibreTexts

9.1D: Host Range

A virus’ host range is the range of cell types and host species a virus is able to infect.




Explain factors that limit viral host range



Key Points


  • The host range or host specificity of a parasite is the collection of hosts that an organism can use as a partner.
  • The host range is usually a function of an inability of the virus to successfully adsorb and/or enter cells because of an incompatibility between virus capsid proteins (or virus envelope proteins ) and the host receptor molecule.
  • The host range is also a function of an incompatibility between the biochemistry of the virus and the biochemistry of the host. For closely related hosts, the biochemical differences can be quite subtle.


Key Terms


  • surface receptor: Cell surface receptors (membrane receptors, transmembrane receptors) are specialized integral membrane proteins that take part in communication between the cell and the outside world.
  • commensal: A term for a form of symbiosis in which one organism derives a benefit while the other is unaffected

Factors Limiting Viral Infection


ICAM-1: structure of ICAM-1 molecule that enables viruses to bind to host’s cell membrane.

A host is an organism that harbors a parasite or a mutual or commensal symbiont, typically providing nourishment and shelter. Resistance to and recovery from viral infections depend on the interactions that occur between the virus and the host. The defenses mounted by the host may act directly on the virus or indirectly on virus replication by altering or killing the infected cell. Non-specific host defenses function early in an encounter with a virus to prevent or limit infection, while the specific host defenses function after infection in recovery to provide immunity for subsequent challenges.

The host defense mechanisms involved in a particular viral infection will vary depending on the virus, dose, and portal of entry. The host has many barriers against infection that are inherent in the organism. These represent the first line of defense, which functions to prevent or limit infection Examples of natural barriers include but are not limited to skin, the expression of surface receptors such as CD4, complement receptors, glycophorin, intercelullar adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), mucus, a ciliated epithelium, low pH, and humoral and cellular components.

The host range of the virus will depend upon the presence of the receptors described above. If a host lacks the receptor for a virus, or if the host cell lacks some component necessary for the replication of a virus, the host will inherently be resistant to that virus. For example, mice lack the receptors for polio viruses and thus are resistant to polio virus. Similarly, humans are inherently resistant to plant and many animal viruses.