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Virus Evol. 2018 Mar 6;4(1):vey004. doi: 10.1093/ve/vey004. eCollection 2018 Jan.

Low-fidelity Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus polymerase mutants to improve live-attenuated vaccine safety and efficacy.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.
Department of Pathology, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Sealy Center for Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.
Institute for Translational Sciences, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA.


During RNA virus replication, there is the potential to incorporate mutations that affect virulence or pathogenesis. For live-attenuated vaccines, this has implications for stability, as replication may result in mutations that either restore the wild-type phenotype via reversion or compensate for the attenuating mutations by increasing virulence (pseudoreversion). Recent studies have demonstrated that altering the mutation rate of an RNA virus is an effective attenuation tool. To validate the safety of low-fidelity mutations to increase vaccine attenuation, several mutations in the RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase (RdRp) were tested in the live-attenuated Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus vaccine strain, TC-83. Next generation sequencing after passage in the presence of mutagens revealed a mutant containing three mutations in the RdRp, TC-83 3x, to have decreased replication fidelity, while a second mutant, TC-83 4x displayed no change in fidelity, but shared many phenotypic characteristics with TC-83 3x. Both mutants exhibited increased, albeit inconsistent attenuation in an infant mouse model, as well as increased immunogenicity and complete protection against lethal challenge of an adult murine model compared with the parent TC-83. During serial passaging in a highly permissive model, the mutants increased in virulence but remained less virulent than the parent TC-83. These results suggest that the incorporation of low-fidelity mutations into the RdRp of live-attenuated vaccines for RNA viruses can confer increased immunogenicity whilst showing some evidence of increased attenuation. However, while in theory such constructs may result in more effective vaccines, the instability of the vaccine phenotype decreases the likelihood of this being an effective vaccine strategy.


alphavirus; arbovirus; fidelity; vaccine; virus diversity

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