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1.  Virus and Host Factors Affecting the Clinical Outcome of Bluetongue Virus Infection 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(18):10399-10411.
ABSTRACT
Bluetongue is a major infectious disease of ruminants caused by bluetongue virus (BTV), an arbovirus transmitted by Culicoides. Here, we assessed virus and host factors influencing the clinical outcome of BTV infection using a single experimental framework. We investigated how mammalian host species, breed, age, BTV serotypes, and strains within a serotype affect the clinical course of bluetongue. Results obtained indicate that in small ruminants, there is a marked difference in the susceptibility to clinical disease induced by BTV at the host species level but less so at the breed level. No major differences in virulence were found between divergent serotypes (BTV-8 and BTV-2). However, we observed striking differences in virulence between closely related strains of the same serotype collected toward the beginning and the end of the European BTV-8 outbreak. As observed previously, differences in disease severity were also observed when animals were infected with either blood from a BTV-infected animal or from the same virus isolated in cell culture. Interestingly, with the exception of two silent mutations, full viral genome sequencing showed identical consensus sequences of the virus before and after cell culture isolation. However, deep sequencing analysis revealed a marked decrease in the genetic diversity of the viral population after passaging in mammalian cells. In contrast, passaging in Culicoides cells increased the overall number of low-frequency variants compared to virus never passaged in cell culture. Thus, Culicoides might be a source of new viral variants, and viral population diversity can be another factor influencing BTV virulence.
IMPORTANCE Bluetongue is one of the major infectious diseases of ruminants. It is caused by an arbovirus known as bluetongue virus (BTV). The clinical outcome of BTV infection is extremely variable. We show that there are clear links between the severity of bluetongue and the mammalian host species infected, while at the breed level differences were less evident. No differences were observed in the virulence of two different BTV serotypes (BTV-8 and BTV-2). In contrast, we show that the European BTV-8 strain isolated at the beginning of the bluetongue outbreak in 2006 was more virulent than a strain isolated toward the end of the outbreak. In addition, we show that there is a link between the variability of the BTV population as a whole and virulence, and our data also suggest that Culicoides cells might function as an “incubator” of viral variants.
doi:10.1128/JVI.01641-14
PMCID: PMC4178883  PMID: 24991012
2.  Immunogenicity of recombinant VP2 proteins of all nine serotypes of African horse sickness virus 
Vaccine  2014;32(39):4932-4937.
African horse sickness (AHS) is an equine disease with a mortality of up to 90% for susceptible horses. The causative agent AHS virus (AHSV) is transmitted by species of Culicoides. AHSV serogroup within the genus Orbivirus of the Reoviridae family consists of nine serotypes that show no or very limited cross-neutralization. Of the seven structural proteins (VP1-VP7) of AHSV, VP2 is the serotype specific protein, and the major target for neutralizing antibodies. In this report, recombinant VP2 proteins of all nine serotypes were expressed individually by the baculovirus expression system and the immunogenicity of each was studied by immunization of guinea pigs with single VP2 as well as with cocktails of VP2 proteins. Homologous neutralizing antibodies measured by 50% plaque reduction assay showed varying degrees (from 37 to 1365) of titers for different VP2 proteins. A low cross-neutralizing antibody titer was found for genetically related AHSV serotypes. Immunization with VP2 cocktails containing equal amounts of each of the VP2 proteins also triggered neutralizing antibodies albeit to lower titers (4-117) to each of the serotypes in the cocktail. This study is a first step to develop a VP2 subunit vaccine for AHS and our results indicate that VP2 subunit vaccines are feasible individually or in a multi-serotype cocktail.
doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.07.031
PMCID: PMC4148702  PMID: 25045805
African horse sickness; Recombinant protein; Capsid protein VP2; Subunit vaccine
3.  Bluetongue, Schmallenberg - what is next? Culicoides-borne viral diseases in the 21st Century 
In the past decade, two pathogens transmitted by Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), bluetongue virus and Schmallenberg virus, have caused serious economic losses to the European livestock industry, most notably affecting sheep and cattle. These outbreaks of arboviral disease have highlighted large knowledge gaps on the biology and ecology of indigenous Culicoides species. With these research gaps in mind, and as a means of assessing what potential disease outbreaks to expect in the future, an international workshop was held in May 2013 at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. It brought together research groups from Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and The Netherlands, with diverse backgrounds in vector ecology, epidemiology, entomology, virology, animal health, modelling, and genetics. Here, we report on the key findings of this workshop.
doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-77
PMCID: PMC3978055  PMID: 24685104
Culicoides; Midge; Schmallenberg virus; Bluetongue virus; Emerging disease; Ecology
4.  RNA Elements in Open Reading Frames of the Bluetongue Virus Genome Are Essential for Virus Replication 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92377.
Members of the Reoviridae family are non-enveloped multi-layered viruses with a double stranded RNA genome consisting of 9 to 12 genome segments. Bluetongue virus is the prototype orbivirus (family Reoviridae, genus Orbivirus), causing disease in ruminants, and is spread by Culicoides biting midges. Obviously, several steps in the Reoviridae family replication cycle require virus specific as well as segment specific recognition by viral proteins, but detailed processes in these interactions are still barely understood. Recently, we have shown that expression of NS3 and NS3a proteins encoded by genome segment 10 of bluetongue virus is not essential for virus replication. This gave us the unique opportunity to investigate the role of RNA sequences in the segment 10 open reading frame in virus replication, independent of its protein products. Reverse genetics was used to generate virus mutants with deletions in the open reading frame of segment 10. Although virus with a deletion between both start codons was not viable, deletions throughout the rest of the open reading frame led to the rescue of replicating virus. However, all bluetongue virus deletion mutants without functional protein expression of segment 10 contained inserts of RNA sequences originating from several viral genome segments. Subsequent studies showed that these RNA inserts act as RNA elements, needed for rescue and replication of virus. Functionality of the inserts is orientation-dependent but is independent from the position in segment 10. This study clearly shows that RNA in the open reading frame of Reoviridae members does not only encode proteins, but is also essential for virus replication.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092377
PMCID: PMC3962428  PMID: 24658296
5.  Rapid Generation of Replication-Deficient Monovalent and Multivalent Vaccines for Bluetongue Virus: Protection against Virulent Virus Challenge in Cattle and Sheep 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(17):9856-9864.
Since 1998, 9 of the 26 serotypes of bluetongue virus (BTV) have spread throughout Europe, and serotype 8 has suddenly emerged in northern Europe, causing considerable economic losses, direct (mortality and morbidity) but also indirect, due to restriction in animal movements. Therefore, many new types of vaccines, particularly subunit vaccines, with improved safety and efficacy for a broad range of BTV serotypes are currently being developed by different laboratories. Here we exploited a reverse genetics-based replication-deficient BTV serotype 1 (BTV-1) (disabled infectious single cycle [DISC]) strain to generate a series of DISC vaccine strains. Cattle and sheep were vaccinated with these viruses either singly or in cocktail form as a multivalent vaccine candidate. All vaccinated animals were seroconverted and developed neutralizing antibody responses to their respective serotypes. After challenge with the virulent strains at 21 days postvaccination, vaccinated animals showed neither any clinical reaction nor viremia. Further, there was no interference with protection with a multivalent preparation of six distinct DISC viruses. These data indicate that a very-rapid-response vaccine could be developed based on which serotypes are circulating in the population at the time of an outbreak.
doi:10.1128/JVI.01514-13
PMCID: PMC3754119  PMID: 23824810
6.  Bluetongue Virus Nonstructural Protein NS3/NS3a Is Not Essential for Virus Replication 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85788.
Orbiviruses form the largest genus of the family Reoviridae consisting of at least 23 different virus species. One of these is the bluetongue virus (BTV) and causes severe hemorrhagic disease in ruminants, and is transmitted by bites of Culicoides midges. BTV is a non-enveloped virus which is released from infected cells by cell lysis and/or a unique budding process induced by nonstructural protein NS3/NS3a encoded by genome segment 10 (Seg-10). Presence of both NS3 and NS3a is highly conserved in Culicoides borne orbiviruses which is suggesting an essential role in virus replication. We used reverse genetics to generate BTV mutants to study the function of NS3/NS3a in virus replication. Initially, BTV with small insertions in Seg-10 showed no CPE but after several passages these BTV mutants reverted to CPE phenotype comparable to wtBTV, and NS3/NS3a expression returned by repair of the ORF. These results show that there is a strong selection for functional NS3/NS3a. To abolish NS3 and/or NS3a expression, Seg-10 with one or two mutated start codons (mutAUG1, mutAUG2 and mutAUG1+2) were used to generate BTV mutants. Surprisingly, all three BTV mutants were generated and the respective AUGMet→GCCAla mutations were maintained. The lack of expression of NS3, NS3a, or both proteins was confirmed by westernblot analysis and immunostaining of infected cells with NS3/NS3a Mabs. Growth of mutAUG1 and mutAUG1+2 virus in BSR cells was retarded in both insect and mammalian cells, and particularly virus release from insect cells was strongly reduced. Our findings now enable research on the role of RNA sequences of Seg-10 independent of known gene products, and on the function of NS3/NS3a proteins in both types of cells as well as in the host and insect vector.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085788
PMCID: PMC3896414  PMID: 24465709
7.  Bluetongue Viruses Based on Modified-Live Vaccine Serotype 6 with Exchanged Outer Shell Proteins Confer Full Protection in Sheep against Virulent BTV8 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44619.
Since 1998, Bluetongue virus (BTV)-serotypes 1, 2, 4, 9, and 16 have invaded European countries around the Mediterranean Basin. In 2006, a huge BT outbreak started after incursion of BTV serotype 8 (BTV8) in North-Western Europe. IN 2008, BTV6 and BTV11 were reported in the Netherlands and Germany, and in Belgium, respectively. In addition, Toggenburg orbivirus (TOV) was detected in 2008 in Swiss goats, which was recognized as a new serotype of BTV (BTV25). The (re-)emergency of BTV serotypes needs a rapid response to supply effective vaccines. Reverse genetics has been developed for BTV1 and more recently also for BTV6. This latter strain, BTV6/net08, is closely related to live-attenuated vaccine for serotype 6 as determined by full genome sequencing. Here, we used this strain as backbone and exchanged segment 2 and 6, respectively Seg-2 (VP2) and Seg-6 (VP5), for those of BTV serotype 1 and 8 using reverse genetics. These so-called ‘serotyped’ vaccine viruses, as mono-serotype and multi-serotype vaccine, were compared for their protective capacity in sheep. In general, all vaccinated animals developed a neutralizing antibody response against their respective serotype. After challenge at three weeks post vaccination with cell-passaged, virulent BTV8/net07 (BTV8/net07/e1/bhkp3) the vaccinated animals showed nearly no clinical reaction. Even more, challenge virus could not be detected, and seroconversion or boostering after challenge was negligible. These data demonstrate that all sheep were protected from a challenge with BTV8/net07, since sheep of the control group showed viremia, seroconversion and clinical signs that are specific for Bluetongue. The high level of cross-protection is discussed.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044619
PMCID: PMC3458051  PMID: 23049753
8.  Rescue of Recent Virulent and Avirulent Field Strains of Bluetongue Virus by Reverse Genetics 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e30540.
Since 1998, Bluetongue virus (BTV)-serotypes 1, 2, 4, 9, and 16 have invaded European countries around the Mediterranean Basin. In 2006, a huge BT-outbreak started after incursion of BTV-serotype 8 (BTV8) in North-Western Europe. More recently, BTV6 and BTV11 were reported in North-Western Europe in 2008. These latter strains are closely related to live-attenuated vaccine, whereas BTV8 is virulent and can induce severe disease in ruminants, including cattle. In addition, Toggenburg orbivirus (TOV) was detected in 2008 in Swiss goats, which was recognized as a new serotype of BTV (BTV25). The (re-)emergency of known and unknown BTV-serotypes needs a rapid response to supply effective vaccines, and research to study this phenomenon. Recently, orbivirus research achieved an important breakthrough by the establishment of reverse genetics for BTV1. Here, reverse genetics for two recent BTV strains representing virulent BTV8 and avirulent BTV6 was developed. For this purpose, extensive sequencing of full-genomes was performed, resulting in the consensus sequences of BTV8/net07 and BTV6/net08. The recovery of ‘synthetic BTV’, respectively rgBTV8 and rgBTV6, completely from T7-derived RNA transcripts was confirmed by silent mutations by which these ‘synthetic BTVs’ could be genetically distinguished from wild type BTV, respectively wtBTV6 and wtBTV8. The in vitro and in vivo properties of rgBTV6 or rgBTV8 were comparable to the properties of their parent strains. The asymptomatic or avirulent properties of rgBTV6 and the virulence of rgBTV8 were confirmed by experimental infection of sheep. Reverse genetics of the vaccine-related BTV6 provides a perfect start to develop new generations of BT-vaccines. Reverse genetics of the virulent BTV8 will accelerate research on the special features of BTV8, like transmission by species of Culicoides in a moderate climate, transplacental transmission, and pathogenesis in cattle.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030540
PMCID: PMC3281837  PMID: 22363444
9.  Genetic modification of Bluetongue virus by uptake of "synthetic" genome segments 
Virology Journal  2010;7:261.
Since 1998, several serotypes of Bluetongue virus (BTV) have invaded several southern European countries. In 2006, the unknown BTV serotype 8 (BTV8/net06) unexpectedly invaded North-West Europe and has resulted in the largest BT-outbreak ever recorded. More recently, in 2008 BTV serotype 6 was reported in the Netherlands and Germany. This virus, BTV6/net08, is closely related to modified-live vaccine virus serotype 6, except for genome segment S10. This genome segment is closer related to that of vaccine virus serotype 2, and therefore BTV6/net08 is considered as a result of reassortment. Research on orbiviruses has been hampered by the lack of a genetic modification method. Recently, reverse genetics has been developed for BTV based on ten in vitro synthesized genomic RNAs. Here, we describe a targeted single-gene modification system for BTV based on the uptake of a single in vitro synthesized viral positive-stranded RNA. cDNAs corresponding to BTV8/net06 genome segments S7 and S10 were obtained by gene synthesis and cloned downstream of the T7 RNA-polymerase promoter and upstream of a unique site for a restriction enzyme at the 3'-terminus for run-off transcription. Monolayers of BSR cells were infected by BTV6/net08, and subsequently transfected with purified in vitro synthesized, capped positive-stranded S7 or S10 RNA from BTV8/net06 origin. "Synthetic" reassortants were rescued by endpoint dilutions, and identified by serotype-specific PCR-assays for segment 2, and serogroup-specific PCRs followed by restriction enzyme analysis or sequencing for S7 and S10 segments. The targeted single-gene modification system can also be used to study functions of viral proteins by uptake of mutated genome segments. This method is also useful to generate mutant orbiviruses for other serogroups of the genus Orbivirus for which reverse genetics has not been developed yet.
doi:10.1186/1743-422X-7-261
PMCID: PMC2958914  PMID: 20929545
10.  Full Genome Characterisation of Bluetongue Virus Serotype 6 from the Netherlands 2008 and Comparison to Other Field and Vaccine Strains 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(4):e10323.
In mid September 2008, clinical signs of bluetongue (particularly coronitis) were observed in cows on three different farms in eastern Netherlands (Luttenberg, Heeten, and Barchem), two of which had been vaccinated with an inactivated BTV-8 vaccine (during May-June 2008). Bluetongue virus (BTV) infection was also detected on a fourth farm (Oldenzaal) in the same area while testing for export. BTV RNA was subsequently identified by real time RT-PCR targeting genome-segment (Seg-) 10, in blood samples from each farm. The virus was isolated from the Heeten sample (IAH “dsRNA virus reference collection” [dsRNA-VRC] isolate number NET2008/05) and typed as BTV-6 by RT-PCR targeting Seg-2. Sequencing confirmed the virus type, showing an identical Seg-2 sequence to that of the South African BTV-6 live-vaccine-strain. Although most of the other genome segments also showed very high levels of identity to the BTV-6 vaccine (99.7 to 100%), Seg-10 showed greatest identity (98.4%) to the BTV-2 vaccine (RSAvvv2/02), indicating that NET2008/05 had acquired a different Seg-10 by reassortment. Although Seg-7 from NET2008/05 was also most closely related to the BTV-6 vaccine (99.7/100% nt/aa identity), the Seg-7 sequence derived from the blood sample of the same animal (NET2008/06) was identical to that of the Netherlands BTV-8 (NET2006/04 and NET2007/01). This indicates that the blood contained two different Seg-7 sequences, one of which (from the BTV-6 vaccine) was selected during virus isolation in cell-culture. The predominance of the BTV-8 Seg-7 in the blood sample suggests that the virus was in the process of reassorting with the northern field strain of BTV-8. Two genome segments of the virus showed significant differences from the BTV-6 vaccine, indicating that they had been acquired by reassortment event with BTV-8, and another unknown parental-strain. However, the route by which BTV-6 and BTV-8 entered northern Europe was not established.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010323
PMCID: PMC2859060  PMID: 20428242
11.  Potential role of ticks as vectors of bluetongue virus 
Experimental & Applied Acarology  2010;52(2):183-192.
When the first outbreak of bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV8) was recorded in North-West Europe in August 2006 and renewed outbreaks occurred in the summer of 2007 and again in 2008, the question was raised how the virus survived the winter. Since most adult Culicoides vector midges are assumed not to survive the northern European winter, and transovarial transmission in Culicoides is not recorded, we examined the potential vector role of ixodid and argasid ticks for bluetongue virus. Four species of ixodid ticks (Ixodes ricinus, Ixodes hexagonus, Dermacentor reticulatus and Rhipicephalus bursa) and one soft tick species, Ornithodoros savignyi, ingested BTV8-containing blood either through capillary feeding or by feeding on artificial membranes. The virus was taken up by the ticks and was found to pass through the gut barrier and spread via the haemolymph into the salivary glands, ovaries and testes, as demonstrated by real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (PCR-test). BTV8 was detected in various tissues of ixodid ticks for up to 21 days post feeding and in Ornithodoros ticks for up to 26 days. It was found after moulting in adult Ixodes hexagonus and was also able to pass through the ovaries into the eggs of an Ornithodoros savignyi tick. This study demonstrates that ticks can become infected with bluetongue virus serotype 8. The transstadial passage in hard ticks and transovarial passage in soft ticks suggest that ticks have potential vectorial capacity for bluetongue virus. Further studies are required to investigate transmission from infected ticks to domestic livestock. This route of transmission could provide an additional clue in the unresolved mystery of the epidemiology of Bluetongue in Europe by considering ticks as a potential overwintering mechanism for bluetongue virus.
doi:10.1007/s10493-010-9359-7
PMCID: PMC2928921  PMID: 20358393
Ticks; Bluetongue virus; Artificial infection; In vitro feeding
12.  A cross-sectional study to determine the seroprevalence of bluetongue virus serotype 8 in sheep and goats in 2006 and 2007 in the Netherlands 
Background
In August 2006 a major epidemic of bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV8) started off in North-West Europe. In the course of 2007 it became evident that BTV8 had survived the winter in North-West Europe, re-emerged and spread exponentially. Recently, the European Union decided to start vaccination against BTV8. In order to improve the understanding of the epidemiological situation, it was necessary to execute a cross-sectional serological study at the end of the BT vector season. Cattle were the target species for cross-sectional serological studies in Europe at the end of 2006 and 2007. However, there was no information on the BTV8-seroprevalence in sheep and goats.
Results
On the basis of our cross-sectional study, the estimated seroprevalence of BTV8-exposed locations in the Netherlands in 2006 was 0% for goats (95% confidence interval: 0 – 5.6%) and 7.0% for sheep (95% confidence interval: 3.5 – 12.9%). The estimated seroprevalence of BTV-8 exposed locations in 2007 was 47% for goats (95% confidence interval: 36 – 58%) and 70% for sheep (95% confidence interval: 63 – 76%). There was a wide range in within-location seroprevalence in locations with goats and sheep (1 – 100%). A gradient in seroprevalence was seen, with the highest level of seroprevalence in the southern Netherlands, the area where the epidemic started in 2006, and a decreasing seroprevalence when going in a northern direction.
Conclusion
There is a much higher estimated seroprevalence of locations with goats exposed to BTV8 than can be inferred from the rather low number of reported clinical outbreaks in goats. This is probably due to the fact that clinical signs in infected goats are far less obvious than in sheep. The wide range in within-location seroprevalence observed means that the proportion of animals protected in 2008 by a natural infection in 2006 and/or 2007 can differ highly between flocks. This should be taken into account when vaccinating animals.
doi:10.1186/1746-6148-4-33
PMCID: PMC2531099  PMID: 18752681

Results 1-12 (12)