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J Virol. 1999 Jan;73(1):51-4.

Spontaneous mutation rate of measles virus: direct estimation based on mutations conferring monoclonal antibody resistance.

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  • 1Respiratory and Enteric Viruses Branch, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30033, USA.


High mutation rates typical of RNA viruses often generate a unique viral population structure consisting of a large number of genetic microvariants. In the case of viral pathogens, this can result in rapid evolution of antiviral resistance or vaccine-escape mutants. We determined a direct estimate of the mutation rate of measles virus, the next likely target for global elimination following poliovirus. In a laboratory tissue culture system, we used the fluctuation test method of estimating mutation rate, which involves screening a large number of independent populations initiated by a small number of viruses each for the presence or absence of a particular single point mutation. The mutation we focused on, which can be screened for phenotypically, confers resistance to a monoclonal antibody (MAb 80-III-B2). The entire H gene of a subset of mutants was sequenced to verify that the resistance phenotype was associated with single point mutations. The epitope conferring MAb resistance was further characterized by Western blot analysis. Based on this approach, measles virus was estimated to have a mutation rate of 9 x 10(-5) per base per replication and a genomic mutation rate of 1.43 per replication. The mutation rates we estimated for measles virus are comparable to recent in vitro estimates for both poliovirus and vesicular stomatitis virus. In the field, however, measles virus shows marked genetic stability. We briefly discuss the evolutionary implications of these results.

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