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RNA Viruses: Control, Mutagenesis and Extinction

  1. Ester Lázaro

Published Online: 15 JUN 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023276



How to Cite

Lázaro, E. 2011. RNA Viruses: Control, Mutagenesis and Extinction. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUN 2011


Ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses form populations with a high degree of genetic diversity, which facilitates adaptation to most changes in the environmental conditions. Therapeutic treatments are a type of change in the selective pressures to which RNA viruses also try to adapt. The selection of drug-resistant mutants and escape mutants able to evade the immune response of the host are clear examples of the capacity of RNA viruses to maintain their infectivity in the presence of inhibitors. Therefore, it is increasingly evident that to find successful control measures for RNA viruses it is necessary to take into account the adaptive potential of these pathogens. Combination therapies and multiepitopic vaccines are antiviral strategies that have demonstrated their effectiveness. Another promising approach, referred to as lethal mutagenesis, exploits the high error rates of RNA viruses to push them above an error threshold incompatible with viability.

Key Concepts:

  • RNA viruses cause diseases that can be very difficult to treat.

  • RNA viruses replicate their genomes with a very high error rate, giving rise to populations that contain a large genetic diversity.

  • RNA viruses possess a great adaptive capacity that permits them to rapidly generate drug-resistant mutants, as well as antibody or cytotoxic T lymphocyte escape mutants.

  • The development of strategies for the control of RNA viruses must take into account their adaptive potential.

  • One of the most successful strategies to control RNA viruses is the use of combination therapies.

  • Lethal mutagenesis is a new antiviral therapy, which consists in the artificial increase of the virus error rate above a limit that is incompatible with viability.


  • RNA viruses;
  • extinction;
  • quasispecies;
  • adaptation;
  • selection;
  • antiviral drugs;
  • lethal mutagenesis;
  • combination therapy;
  • drug-resistant mutant