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Virology. 2007 Mar 15;359(2):447-58. Epub 2006 Oct 25.

Genomic cartography of varicella-zoster virus: a complete genome-based analysis of strain variability with implications for attenuation and phenotypic differences.

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National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg MB, Canada.


In order to gain a better perspective on the true variability of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and to catalogue the location and number of differences, 11 new complete genome sequences were compared with those previously in the public domain (18 complete genomes in total). Three of the newly sequenced genomes were derived from a single strain in order to assess variations that can occur during serial passage in cell culture. The analysis revealed that while VZV is relatively stable genetically it does posses a certain degree of variability. The reiteration regions, origins of replication and intergenic homopolymer regions were all found to be variable between strains as well as within a given strain. In addition, the terminal viral sequences were found to vary within and between strains specifically at the 3' end of the genome. Analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified a total of 557 variable sites, 451 of which were found in coding regions and resulted in 187 different in amino acid substitutions. A comparison of the SNPs present in the two gE mutant strains, VZV-MSP and VZV-BC, suggested that the missense mutation in gE was primarily responsible for the accelerated cell spread phenotype. Some of the variations noted with high passage in cell culture are consistent with variations seen in the IE62 gene of the vaccine strains (S628G, R958G and I1260V) that may help in pinpointing variations essential for attenuation. Although VZV has been considered to be one of the most genetically stable human herpesviruses, this initial assessment of genomic VZV cartography provides insight into ORFs with previously unreported variations.

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