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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39941. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039941. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Mutagenesis-mediated decrease of pathogenicity as a feature of the mutant spectrum of a viral population.

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Centro de Investigación en Sanidad Animal, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria, Valdeolmos, Madrid, Spain.



RNA virus populations are heterogeneous ensembles of closely related genomes termed quasispecies. This highly complex distribution of variants confers important properties to RNA viruses and influences their pathogenic behavior. It has been hypothesized that increased mutagenesis of viral populations, by treatment with mutagenic agents, can induce alterations in the pathogenic potential of a virus population. In this work we investigate whether mutagenized foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) populations display changes in their virulence in mice.


FMDV C-S8c1 was passaged in BHK cells in the presence of the mutagenic agent ribavirin. Decline in viral titer and viral RNA progeny was observed in the first passage, fluctuating around a constant value thereafter. Hence, the specific infectivity remained stable during the passages. The viral population harvested from passage 9 (P9 R) showed decreased virulence in mice, with a lethal dose 50 (LD(50)) >10(4) PFU, as compared with LD(50) of 50 PFU of the parental population FMDV C-S8c1. This decrease in virulence was associated to a 20-fold increase in the mutation frequency of the P9 R population with respect to C-S8c1. Interestingly, individual biological clones isolated from the attenuated population P9 R were as virulent as the parental virus C-S8c1. Furthermore, a mixed population of C-S8c1 and P9 R was inoculated into mice and showed decreased virulence as compared to C-S8c1, suggesting that population P9 R is able to suppress the virulent phenotype of C-S8c1.


Ribavirin-mediated mutagenesis of an FMDV population resulted in attenuation in vivo, albeit a large proportion of its biological clones displayed a highly virulent phenotype. These results, together with the suppression of C-S8c1 by mutagenized P9 R population, document a suppressive effect of mutagenized viral quasispecies in vivo, and suggest novel approaches to the treatment and prevention of viral diseases.

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