Members of the Polyomaviridae
family differ in their host range, pathogenesis, and disease severity. To date, some of the most studied polyomaviruses include human JC, BK, and Merkel cell polyomavirus and non-human subspecies murine and simian virus 40 (SV40) polyomavirus. Although dichotomies in host range and pathogenesis exist, overlapping features of the infectious cycle illuminate the similarities within this virus family. Of particular interest to human health, JC, BK, and Merkel cell polyomavirus have all been linked to critical, often fatal, illnesses, emphasizing the importance of understanding the underlying viral infections that result in the onset of these diseases. As there are significant overlaps in the capacity of polyomaviruses to cause disease in their respective hosts, recent advancements in characterizing the infectious life cycle of non-human murine and SV40 polyomaviruses are key to understanding diseases caused by their human counterparts. This review focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which different polyomaviruses hijack cellular processes to attach to host cells, internalize, traffic within the cytoplasm, and disassemble within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), prior to delivery to the nucleus for viral replication. Unraveling the fundamental processes that facilitate polyomavirus infection provides deeper insight into the conserved mechanisms of the infectious process shared within this virus family, while also highlighting critical unique viral features.
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