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J Virol. 2005 Sep;79(17):11300-10.

Variation in interferon sensitivity and induction among strains of eastern equine encephalitis virus.

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Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, 77555-0609, USA.


Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) causes human encephalitis in North America (NA), but in South America (SA) it has rarely been associated with human disease, suggesting that SA strains are less virulent. To evaluate the hypothesis that this virulence difference is due to a greater ability of NA strains to evade innate immunity, we compared replication of NA and SA strains in Vero cells pretreated with interferon (IFN). Human IFN-alpha, -beta, and -gamma generally exhibited less effect on replication of NA than SA strains, supporting this hypothesis. In the murine model, no consistent difference in IFN induction was observed between NA and SA strains. After infection with most EEEV strains, higher viremia levels and shorter survival times were observed in mice deficient in IFN-alpha/beta receptors than in wild-type mice, suggesting that IFN-alpha/beta is important in controlling replication. In contrast, IFN-gamma receptor-deficient mice infected with NA and SA strains had similar viremia levels and mortality rates to those of wild-type mice, suggesting that IFN-gamma does not play a major role in murine protection. Mice pretreated with poly(I-C), a nonspecific IFN inducer, exhibited dose-dependent protection against fatal eastern equine encephalitis, further evidence that IFN is important in controlling disease. Overall, our in vivo results did not support the hypothesis that NA strains are more virulent in humans due to their greater ability to counteract the IFN response. However, further studies using a better model of human disease are needed to confirm the results of differential human IFN sensitivity obtained in our in vitro experiments.

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