Change in phenotype of tick-borne encephalitis virus following passage in Ixodes ricinus ticks and associated amino acid substitution in the envelope protein.
Labuda M., Jiang WR., Kaluzova M., Kozuch O., Nuttall PA., Weismann P., Elĕckova E., Zuffová E., Gould EA.
Serial passage of an uncloned tick-borne encephalitis virus (strain 4387 isolated from the liver and lungs of a bank vole) in Ixodes ricinus ticks, was accompanied by gradual reduction in virulence of the virus, as indicated by transmission of virus by infected ticks feeding on laboratory mice. After the 7th serial passage in ticks (strain 4387/7), 95% of mice survived the bite of infected ticks. The surviving infected mice showed either no or only low viraemia although virus could be isolated from the brains of some mice 14 and 30 days after commencement of tick feeding, implying that the tick passaged virus might have established a persistent infection in the mice. Tests for haemagglutinating capacity were positive with TBE strain 4387 but strain 4387/7 exhibited no haemagglutinating activity over a wide pH range, suggesting that phenotypic changes, resulting from selection, had affected the site on the viral envelope protein that binds red blood cell receptors. Sequencing of the envelope protein gene of the virulent TBE strain 4387 showed 3 amino acid codon differences from western European TBE virus strain Neudorfl, which is also virulent for mice. The attenuated virus 4387/7, had an amino acid substitution that was different from 4387 and Neudorfl TBE virus (amino acid 84, E to K) and a second substitution different from 4387 but identical to Neudorfl virus (amino acid 319, I to T). Thus, the phenotypic change from virulence to attenuation was associated with a single amino acid codon change in the viral envelope gene of TBE virus. It is recognised, however, that amino acid substitutions in other parts of the viral genome have not been ruled out.