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Virology. 2000 Sep 30;275(2):306-17.

Varicella-zoster virus gE escape mutant VZV-MSP exhibits an accelerated cell-to-cell spread phenotype in both infected cell cultures and SCID-hu mice.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA.


Varicella-zoster virus is considered to have one of the most stable genomes of all human herpesviruses. In 1998, we reported the unanticipated discovery of a wild-type virus that had lost an immunodominant B-cell epitope on the gE ectodomain (VZV-MSP); the gE escape mutant virus exhibited an unusual pattern of egress. Further studies have now documented a markedly enhanced cell-to-cell spread by the mutant virus in cell culture. This property was investigated by laser scanning confocal microscopy combined with a software program that allows the measurement of pixel intensity of the fluorescent signal. For this new application of imaging technology, the VZV immediate early protein 62 (IE 62) was selected as the fluoresceinated marker. By 48 h postinfection, the number of IE 62-positive pixels in the VZV-MSP-infected culture was nearly fourfold greater than the number of pixels in a culture infected with a low-passage laboratory strain. Titrations by infectious center assays supported the above image analysis data. Confirmatory studies in the SCID-hu mouse documented that VZV-MSP spread more rapidly than other VZV strains in human fetal skin implants. Generally, the cytopathology and vesicle formation produced by other strains at 21 days postinfection were demonstrable with VZV-MSP at 14 days. To assess whether additional genes were contributing to the unusual VZV-MSP phenotype, approximately 20 kb of the VZV-MSP genome was sequenced, including ORFs 31 (gB), 37 (gH), 47, 60 (gL), 61, 62 (IE 62), 66, 67 (gI), and 68 (gE). Except for a few polymorphisms, as well as the previously discovered mutation within gE, the nucleotide sequences within most open reading frames were identical to the prototype VZV-Dumas strain. In short, VZV-MSP represents a novel variant virus with a distinguishable phenotype demonstrable in both infected cell cultures and SCID-hu mice.

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