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Virology. 1991 Jul;183(1):20-31.

Attenuating mutations in the E2 glycoprotein gene of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus: construction of single and multiple mutants in a full-length cDNA clone.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599.


Attenuated mutants of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE) were isolated by selection for rapid penetration of cultured cells (R. E. Johnston and J. F. Smith, 1988, Virology 162, 437-443). Sequence analysis of these mutants identified candidate attenuating mutations at four loci in the VEE E2 glycoprotein gene: a double mutation at E2 codons 3 and 4, and single substitutions at E2 76, 120, and 209. Each candidate mutation was reproduced in an isogenic recombinant VEE strain using site-directed mutagenesis of a full-length cDNA clone of VEE. Characterization of these molecularly cloned mutant viruses showed that mutation at each of the four loci in the E2 gene was sufficient to confer both the accelerated penetration and attenuation phenotypes. Inoculation of the molecularly cloned viruses into rodent models that differ in their response to VEE suggested that individual mutations affected different aspects of VEE pathogenesis. Full-length clones containing multiple mutations were produced by combining independently attenuating mutations. Molecularly cloned viruses carrying two or three mutations were more attenuated in sensitive animal models than viruses which contained any single mutation alone. However, these highly attenuated strains still retained the ability to induce an immune response sufficient to protect against a high dose challenge with virulent VEE. These results indicate that production of a molecularly cloned live virus vaccine for VEE is feasible.

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