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J Virol. Mar 1996; 70(3): 1981–1989.
PMCID: PMC190027

Deduced consensus sequence of Sindbis virus strain AR339: mutations contained in laboratory strains which affect cell culture and in vivo phenotypes.


The consensus sequence of the Sindbis virus AR339 isolate, the prototype alphavirus, has been deduced. THe results presented here suggest (i) that a substantial proportion of the sequence divergence evident between the consensus sequence and sequences of laboratory strains of AR339 has resulted from selection for efficient growth in cell culture, (ii) that many of these changes affect the virulence of the virus in animal models, and (iii) that such modified genetic backgrounds present in laboratory strains can exert a significant influence on genetic studies of virus pathogenesis and host range. A laboratory strain of Sindbis virus AR339 was sequenced and cloned as a cDNA (pTRSB) from which infectious virus (TRSB) could be derived. The consensus sequence was deduced from the complete sequences of pTRSB and HRsp (E. G. Strauss, C. M. Rice, and J. H. Strauss, Virology 133:92-110, 1984), from partial sequences of the glycoprotein genes of three other AR339 laboratory strains, and by comparison with the sequences of the glycoprotein genes of three other AR339 sequence. HRsp differed form the consensus sequence by eight coding changes, and TRSB differed by three coding changes. In the 5' untranslated region, HRsp differed from the consensus sequence at nucleotide (nt) 5. These differences were likely the result of cell culture passage of the original AR339 isolate. At three of the difference loci (one in TRSB and two in HRsp), selection of cell-culture-adaptive mutations was documented with Sindbis virus or other alphaviruses. Selection in cell culture often results in attenuation of virulence in animals. Considering the TRSB and HRsp sequences together, one noncoding difference from the consensus (an A-for-G substitution in the 5' untranslated region at nt 5) and six coding differences in the glycoprotein genes (at E2 amino acids 1, 3, 70, and 172 and at E1 amino acids 72 and 237) were at loci which, either individually or in combination, significantly affected alphavirus virulence in mice. Although the levels of virulence of isogenic strains containing either nt 5 A or nt 5 G did not differ significantly in neonatal mice, the presence of nt 5 A greatly enhanced the effect of a second attenuating mutation in the E2 gene. These results suggest that minimal differences in the "wild type" genetic background into which an additional mutation is introduced can have a dramatic effect on apparent virulence and pathogenesis phenotypes. A cDNA clone of the consensus AR339 sequence, a sequence devoid of occult attenuating mutations introduced by cell culture passage, will allow the molecular genetic examination of cell culture and in vivo phenotypes of a virus which may best reflect the sequence of Sindbis virus AR339 at the time of its isolation.

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Selected References

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