Kaposi’s sarcoma replicates in normal cells and kills them, leaving precancerous cells alive, according to PLoS ONE paper.

Viruses may act as forces of natural selection by wiping out normal cells that support their replication and leaving behind those cells that have acquired defects in their circuitry, report researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. When this process is repeated, they explain, cancer may develop.

This theory, called the Phoenix Paradigm, is based on a study of cells infected with the Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). The scientists examined a gene called K13 that activates a pathway previously implicated in cancer development.

Cells with low K13 expression allowed KSHV to replicate, and these cells subsequently died off, the investigators noted. The team also found that cells with higher expression of K13 emerged after KSHV replication and showed defective expression of two key proteins that are known to promote cancer.

The findings are published in the October 24 issue of PLoS ONE.

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