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J Virol. 2014 Apr;88(8):4008-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.03594-13. Epub 2014 Jan 22.

Ribavirin-resistant variants of foot-and-mouth disease virus: the effect of restricted quasispecies diversity on viral virulence.

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  • 1Division of Livestock Infectious Diseases, State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology, Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Harbin, People's Republic of China.

Abstract

Mutagenic nucleoside analogues can be used to isolate RNA virus high-fidelity RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) variants, the majority of which are attenuated in vivo. However, attenuated foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) high-fidelity RdRp variants have not been isolated, and the correlations between RdRp fidelity and virulence remain unclear. Here, the mutagen ribavirin was used to select a ribavirin-resistant population of FMDV, and 4 amino acid substitutions (D5N, A38V, M194I, and M296V) were identified in the RdRp-coding region of the population. Through single or combined mutagenesis using a reverse genetics system, we generated direct experimental evidence that the rescued D5N, A38V, and DAMM mutants but not the M194I and M296V mutants are high-fidelity RdRp variants. Mutagen resistance assays revealed that the higher replication fidelity was associated with higher-level resistance to ribavirin. In addition, significantly attenuated fitness and virulence phenotypes were observed for the D5N, A38V, and DAMM mutants. Based on a systematic quantitative analysis of fidelity and virulence, we concluded that higher replication fidelity is associated with a more attenuated virus. These data suggest that the resulting restricted quasispecies diversity compromises the adaptability and virulence of an RNA virus population. The modulation of replication fidelity to attenuate virulence may represent a general strategy for the rational design of new types of live, attenuated vaccine strains.

IMPORTANCE:

The ribavirin-isolated poliovirus (PV) RdRp G64S variant, the polymerases of which were of high replication fidelity, was attenuated in vivo. It has been proposed (M. Vignuzzi, E. Wendt, and R. Andino, Nat. Med. 14:154-161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm1726) that modulation of replication fidelity is a promising approach for engineering attenuated virus vaccines. The subsequently mutagen-isolated RdRp variants also expressed the high-fidelity polymerase, but not all of them were attenuated. Few studies have shown the exact correlation between fidelity and virulence. The present study investigates the effect of restricted quasispecies diversity on viral virulence via several attenuated FMDV high-fidelity RdRp variants. Our findings may aid in the rational design of a new type of vaccine strain.

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