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Spike proteins, also known as peplomers (Greek: peplos 'robe', '[woman's] dress' + meros 'part'), are the knoblike structures generally composed of glycoproteins, projecting from the lipid bilayer of the surface of an enveloped virus. Peplomers play important roles in the infection process; they are responsible for the attachment of the virus particle or virion to receptor sites on the host cell's surface, and bringing about the release of the nucleocapsid containing the virus's genetic material into the host cell's cytoplasm by triggering fusion between the envelope and host membranes. They may have hemagglutinating activity or have enzyme activity such as neuraminidase. They are surface antigens.
The term peplomer is rarely used today and is no longer used for all outwardly protruding envelope proteins; it is mostly replaced by the less precise expression spike. However, this suggests a pointed structure, which is not the case with these envelope structures; they are round, flattened or button-shaped on the outside. Both terms, peplomer and spike, however, only describe a morphologically visible structure and are not identical to the expression membrane protein or coat protein; many other membrane proteins in viruses do not form these prominent structures.
Peplomers can be seen in electron micrographs on the surface of enveloped viruses such as Orthomyxoviruses, Paramyxoviruses, Rhabdoviruses, Filoviruses, Coronaviruses, Bunyaviruses, Arenaviruses, and Retroviruses.
Society and culture
During the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccination misinformation circulated on based social media platforms saying that spike proteins were dangerously "cytotoxic" and that mRNA vaccines containing them were therefore in themselves dangerous.
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