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Virology. 2005 Mar 15;333(2):263-70.

The N-terminal domain of the vaccinia virus E3L-protein is required for neurovirulence, but not induction of a protective immune response.

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Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology, School of Life Sciences/The Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University Box 874501 Tempe, AZ 85287-4501, USA.


Encephalitis is a rare, but serious complication from vaccination against smallpox using replication competent strains of vaccinia virus. In this report we describe mutants of vaccinia virus, containing N-terminal deletions of the vaccinia virus interferon resistance gene, E3L, that are attenuated for neuropathogenesis in a mouse model system. These recombinant viruses replicated to high titers in the nasal mucosa after intra-nasal infection of C57BL/6 mice but failed to spread to the lungs or brain. These viruses demonstrated reduced pathogenicity after intra-cranial infection as well, indicating a decrease in neurovirulence. Intra-nasal inoculation or inoculation by scarification with a low dose of recombinant virus containing a deletion of the entire N-terminal domain of E3L protected against challenge with a high dose of wild-type vaccinia virus, suggesting that this replication competent, but attenuated strain of vaccinia virus may have promise as an improved vaccine for protecting against smallpox, and as a vector for inducing mucosal immunity to heterologous pathogenic organisms.

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