Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV), a member of the genus Phlebovirus within the family Bunyaviridae, is a negative-stranded RNA virus with a tripartite genome. RVFV is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes fever and severe hemorrhagic illness among humans, while in livestock it causes fever and high abortion rates.
Sequence analysis showed that a wild-type RVFV ZH501 preparation consisted of two major viral subpopulations, with a single nucleotide heterogeneity at nucleotide 847 of M segment (M847); one had a G residue at M847 encoding glycine in a major viral envelope Gn protein, while the other carried A residue encoding glutamic acid at the corresponding site. Two ZH501-derived viruses, rZH501-M847-G and rZH501-M847-A, carried identical genomic sequences, except that the former and the latter had G and A, respectively, at M847 were recovered by using a reverse genetics system. Intraperitoneal inoculation of rZH501-M847-A into mice caused a rapid and efficient viral accumulation in the sera, livers, spleens, kidneys and brains, and killed most of the mice within 8 days, whereas rZH501-M847-G caused low viremia titers, did not replicate as efficiently as did rZH501-M847-A in these organs, and had attenuated virulence to mice. Remarkably, as early as 2 days postinfection with rZH501-M847-G, the viruses carrying A at M847 emerged and became the major virus population thereafter, while replicating viruses retained the input A residue at M847 in rZH501-M847-A-infected mice.
These data demonstrated that the single nucleotide substitution in the Gn protein substantially affected the RVFV mouse virulence and that a virus population carrying the virulent viral genotype quickly emerged and became the major viral population within a few days in mice that were inoculated with the attenuated virus.