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J Virol. 2013 Oct;87(20):10997-1007. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01394-13. Epub 2013 Jul 31.

The murine model for Hantaan virus-induced lethal disease shows two distinct paths in viral evolutionary trajectory with and without ribavirin treatment.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.


In vitro, ribavirin acts as a lethal mutagen in Hantaan virus (HTNV)-infected Vero E6 cells, resulting in an increased mutation load and viral population extinction. In this study, we asked whether ribavirin treatment in the lethal, suckling mouse model of HTNV infection would act similarly. The HTNV genomic RNA (vRNA) copy number and infectious virus were measured in lungs of untreated and ribavirin-treated mice. In untreated, HTNV-infected mice, the vRNA copy number increased for 10 days postinfection (dpi) and thereafter remained constant through 26 dpi. Surprisingly, in ribavirin-treated, HTNV-infected mice, vRNA levels were similar to those in untreated mice between 10 and 26 dpi. Infectious virus levels, however, were different: in ribavirin-treated mice, the amount of infectious HTNV was significantly decreased relative to that in untreated mice, suggesting that ribavirin reduced the specific infectivity of the virus (amount of infectious virus produced per vRNA copy). Mutational analysis revealed a ribavirin-associated elevation in mutation frequency in HTNV vRNA similar to that previously reported in vitro. Codon-based analyses of rates of nonsynonymous (dN) and synonymous (dS) substitutions in the S segment revealed a positive selection for codons within the HTNV N protein gene in the ribavirin-treated vRNA population. In contrast, the vRNA population in untreated, HTNV-infected mice showed a lower level of diversity, reflecting purifying selection for the wild-type genome. In summary, these experiments show two different evolutionary paths that Hantavirus may take during infection in a lethal murine model of disease, as well as the importance of the in vivo host environment in the evolution of the virus, which was not apparent in our prior in vitro model system.

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