To facilitate sequence-specific detection of DNA amplified in a diagnostic reverse transcription (RT)-PCR for Lassa virus, we developed an array featuring 47 oligonucleotide probes for post-PCR hybridization of the amplicons. The array procedure may be performed with low-tech equipment and does not take longer than agarose gel detection.
We investigated synanthropic small mammals in the Ethiopian Highlands as potential reservoirs for human pathogens and found that 2 rodent species, the Ethiopian white-footed mouse and Awash multimammate mouse, are carriers of novel Mobala virus strains. The white-footed mouse also carries a novel hantavirus, the second Murinae-associated hantavirus found in Africa.
RNA; viruses; rodents; Ethiopia; hantavirus; arenaviruses; Mobala virus; Arenaviridae; murine; Murinae; bunyaviruses; Bunyaviridae; RNA viruses
West Nile virus; arbovirus; Germany; serology; viruses; vector-borne infections
Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic fever endemic in West Africa. However, none of the hospitals in the endemic areas of Nigeria has the capacity to perform Lassa virus diagnostics. Case identification and management solely relies on non-specific clinical criteria. The Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) in the central senatorial district of Edo State struggled with this challenge for many years.
A laboratory for molecular diagnosis of Lassa fever, complying with basic standards of diagnostic PCR facilities, was established at ISTH in 2008. During 2009 through 2010, samples of 1,650 suspected cases were processed, of which 198 (12%) tested positive by Lassa virus RT-PCR. No remarkable demographic differences were observed between PCR-positive and negative patients. The case fatality rate for Lassa fever was 31%. Nearly two thirds of confirmed cases attended the emergency departments of ISTH. The time window for therapeutic intervention was extremely short, as 50% of the fatal cases died within 2 days of hospitalization—often before ribavirin treatment could be commenced. Fatal Lassa fever cases were older (p = 0.005), had lower body temperature (p<0.0001), and had higher creatinine (p<0.0001) and blood urea levels (p<0.0001) than survivors. Lassa fever incidence in the hospital followed a seasonal pattern with a peak between November and March. Lassa virus sequences obtained from the patients originating from Edo State formed—within lineage II—a separate clade that could be further subdivided into three clusters.
Lassa fever case management was improved at a tertiary health institution in Nigeria through establishment of a laboratory for routine diagnostics of Lassa virus. Data collected in two years of operation demonstrate that Lassa fever is a serious public health problem in Edo State and reveal new insights into the disease in hospitalized patients.
In the past, diagnostic testing for Lassa fever patients in Nigeria has been performed nearly exclusively outside of the country. Patients thus were managed on-site based on clinical suspicion alone, posing risks to patients and health care workers and exhausting resources. To tackle this problem, we established a diagnostic PCR laboratory directly at a referral hospital serving a Lassa fever endemic area in Nigeria. Long-term collaboration between partners in the North and the South was crucial to implement this project. Training of laboratory staff in the partner institutions and on-site, mobilization of local human and financial resources, good management of the laboratory, a basic quality management and control system, and a stable supply chain for consumables and reagents were among the key factors for success. The laboratory reliably delivered results in a short turnaround time, despite some problems due to PCR contamination. The service has improved patient and contact management including treatment with ribavirin and led to better protection of health care workers against hospital-acquired infections. The data provide new insights into disease progression and a basis for further optimization of case management including supportive treatment.
Usutu virus (USUV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that emerged 2001 in Austria and caused deaths in wild birds. In Germany, 70,378 female mosquitoes were captured in 2009 and 2010 and assayed for USUV. Virus was isolated in cell culture from one pool of Culex pipiens pipiens mosquitoes trapped exclusively in August 2010 in Weinheim, Germany. Subsequent phylogenetic analysis demonstrated a close relationship between the isolated USUV strain from Germany and a USUV strain from Austria, which was detected in a dead blackbird in 2004.
Lassa virus (LASV) causing hemorrhagic Lassa fever in West Africa, Mopeia virus (MOPV) from East Africa, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) are the main representatives of the Old World arenaviruses. Little is known about how the components of the arenavirus replication machinery, i.e., the genome, nucleoprotein (NP), and L protein, interact. In addition, it is unknown whether these components can function across species boundaries. We established minireplicon systems for MOPV and LCMV in analogy to the existing LASV system and exchanged the components among the three systems. The functional and physical integrity of the resulting complexes was tested by reporter gene assay, Northern blotting, and coimmunoprecipitation studies. The minigenomes, NPs, and L proteins of LASV and MOPV could be exchanged without loss of function. LASV and MOPV L protein was also active in conjunction with LCMV NP, while the LCMV L protein required homologous NP for activity. Analysis of LASV/LCMV NP chimeras identified a single LCMV-specific NP residue (Ile-53) and the C terminus of NP (residues 340 to 558) as being essential for LCMV L protein function. The defect of LASV and MOPV NP in supporting transcriptional activity of LCMV L protein was not caused by a defect in physical NP-L protein interaction. In conclusion, components of the replication complex of Old World arenaviruses have the potential to functionally and physically interact across species boundaries. Residue 53 and the C-terminal domain of NP are important for function of L protein during genome replication and transcription.
Mayaro virus; Mayaro virus infection; traveler; viral polyarthritis; viral polyarthralgia; alphavirus infection; viruses; Amazon Basin; northern Peru
This study aimed to identify the causative agent of mass mortality in wild and captive birds in southwest Germany and to gather insights into the phylogenetic relationship and spatial distribution of the pathogen. Since June 2011, 223 dead birds were collected and tested for the presence of viral pathogens. Usutu virus (USUV) RNA was detected by real-time RT-PCR in 86 birds representing 6 species. The virus was isolated in cell culture from the heart of 18 Blackbirds (Turdus merula). USUV-specific antigen was demonstrated by immunohistochemistry in brain, heart, liver, and lung of infected Blackbirds. The complete polyprotein coding sequence was obtained by deep sequencing of liver and spleen samples of a dead Blackbird from Mannheim (BH65/11-02-03). Phylogenetic analysis of the German USUV strain BH65/11-02-03 revealed a close relationship with strain Vienna that caused mass mortality among birds in Austria in 2001. Wild birds from lowland river valleys in southwest Germany were mainly affected by USUV, but also birds kept in aviaries. Our data suggest that after the initial detection of USUV in German mosquitoes in 2010, the virus spread in 2011 and caused epizootics among wild and captive birds in southwest Germany. The data also indicate an increased risk of USUV infections in humans in Germany.
A molecular survey including 16,057 mosquitoes captured in Southwest Germany during the summer of 2009 showed the presence of Batai virus (BATV) in Anopheles maculipennis sensu lato. Until this survey, there was no evidence for circulation of BATV in Germany. Analysis of partial S, M, and L segments showed that the sequences from all three segments were most closely related to BATV, indicating that the virus has not undergone reassortment. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a close relationship of the isolated BATV strain from Germany with strains from Slovakia, Ukraine, and Russia.
Recent Lassa virus strains from Nigeria were completely or partially sequenced. Phylogenetic analysis revealed the predominance of lineage II and III strains, the existence of a previously undescribed (sub)lineage in Nigeria, and the directional spread of virus in the southern part of the country. The Bayesian analysis also provided estimates for divergence times within the Lassa virus clade.
The 200-kDa L protein of arenaviruses plays a central role in viral genome replication and transcription. This study aimed at providing evidence for the domain structure of L protein by combining bioinformatics with a stepwise mutagenesis approach using the Lassa virus minireplicon system. Potential interdomain linkers were predicted using various algorithms. The prediction was challenged by insertion of flexible sequences into the predicted linkers. Insertion of 5 or 10 amino acid residues was tolerated at seven sites (S407, G446, G467, G774, G939, S1952, and V2074 in Lassa virus AV). At two of these sites, G467 and G939, L protein could be split into an N-terminal and a C-terminal part, which were able to trans-complement each other and reconstitute a functional complex upon coexpression. Coimmunoprecipitation studies revealed physical interaction between the N- and C-terminal domains, irrespective of whether L protein was split at G467 or G939. In confocal immunofluorescence microscopy, the N-terminal domains showed a dot-like, sometimes perinuclear, cytoplasmic distribution similar to that of full-length L protein, while the C-terminal domains were homogenously distributed in cytoplasm. The latter were redistributed into the dot-like structures upon coexpression with the corresponding N-terminal domain. In conclusion, this study demonstrates two interdomain linkers in Lassa virus L protein, at G467 and G939, suggesting that L protein is composed of at least three structural domains spanning residues 1 to 467, 467 to 939, and 939 to 2220. The first domain seems to mediate accumulation of L protein into cytoplasmic dot-like structures.
This study aimed to identify new arenaviruses and gather insights in the evolution of arenaviruses in Africa. During 2003 through 2005, 1,228 small mammals representing 14 different genera were trapped in 9 villages in south, east, and middle west of Côte d'Ivoire. Specimens were screened by pan-Old World arenavirus RT-PCRs targeting S and L RNA segments as well as immunofluorescence assay. Sequences of two novel tentative species of the family Arenaviridae, Menekre and Gbagroube virus, were detected in Hylomyscus sp. and Mus (Nannomys) setulosus, respectively. Arenavirus infection of Mus (Nannomys) setulosus was also demonstrated by serological testing. Lassa virus was not found, although 60% of the captured animals were Mastomys natalensis. Complete S RNA and partial L RNA sequences of the novel viruses were recovered from the rodent specimens and subjected to phylogenetic analysis. Gbagroube virus is a closely related sister taxon of Lassa virus, while Menekre virus clusters with the Ippy/Mobala/Mopeia virus complex. Reconstruction of possible virus–host co-phylogeny scenarios suggests that, within the African continent, signatures of co-evolution might have been obliterated by multiple host-switching events.
Virus-infected cells secrete a broad range of interferons (IFN) which confer resistance to yet uninfected cells by triggering the synthesis of antiviral factors. The relative contributions of the various IFN subtypes to innate immunity against virus infections remain elusive. IFN-α, IFN-β, and other type I IFN molecules signal through a common, universally expressed cell surface receptor, whereas type III IFN (IFN-λ) uses a distinct cell-type-specific receptor complex for signaling. Using mice lacking functional receptors for type I IFN, type III IFN, or both, we found that IFN-λ plays an important role in the defense against several human pathogens that infect the respiratory tract, such as influenza A virus, influenza B virus, respiratory syncytial virus, human metapneumovirus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus. These viruses were more pathogenic and replicated to higher titers in the lungs of mice lacking both IFN receptors than in mice with single IFN receptor defects. In contrast, Lassa fever virus, which infects via the respiratory tract but primarily replicates in the liver, was not influenced by the IFN-λ receptor defect. Careful analysis revealed that expression of functional IFN-λ receptor complexes in the lung and intestinal tract is restricted to epithelial cells and a few other, undefined cell types. Interestingly, we found that SARS coronavirus was present in feces from infected mice lacking receptors for both type I and type III IFN but not in those from mice lacking single receptors, supporting the view that IFN-λ contributes to the control of viral infections in epithelial cells of both respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
The method of choice for the detection of Lassa virus is reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. However, the high degree of genetic variability of the virus poses a problem with the design of RT-PCR assays that will reliably detect all strains. Recently, we encountered difficulties in detecting some strains from Liberia and Nigeria in a commonly used glycoprotein precursor (GPC) gene-specific RT-PCR assay (A. H. Demby, J. Chamberlain, D. W. Brown, and C. S. Clegg, J. Clin. Microbiol. 32:2898-2903, 1994), which prompted us to revise the protocol. The design of the new assay, the GPC RT-PCR/2007 assay, took into account 62 S RNA sequences from all countries where Lassa fever is endemic, including 40 sequences generated from the strains in our collection. The analytical sensitivity of the new assay was determined with 11 strains from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria by probit analysis; the viral loads detectable with a probability of 95% ranged from 342 to 2,560 S RNA copies/ml serum, which corresponds to 4 to 30 S RNA copies/assay. The GPC RT-PCR/2007 assay was validated with 77 serum samples and 1 cerebrospinal fluid sample from patients with laboratory-confirmed Lassa fever. The samples mainly originated from Liberia and Nigeria and included strains difficult to detect in the assay of 1994. The GPC RT-PCR/2007 assay detected virus in all clinical specimens (100% sensitivity). In conclusion, a new RT-PCR assay, based in part on the protocol developed by Demby et al. in 1994, for the detection of Lassa virus is described. Compared to the assay developed in 1994, the GPC RT-PCR/2007 assay offers improved sensitivity for the detection of Liberian and Nigerian Lassa virus strains.
The alphavirus capsid is multifunctional and plays a key role in the viral life cycle. The nucleocapsid domain is released by the self-cleavage activity of the serine protease domain within the capsid. All alphaviruses analyzed to date show this autocatalytic cleavage. Here we have analyzed the sequence requirements for the cleavage activity of Chikungunya virus capsid protease of genus alphavirus.
Amongst alphaviruses, the C-terminal amino acid tryptophan (W261) is conserved and found to be important for the cleavage. Mutating tryptophan to alanine (W261A) completely inactivated the protease. Other amino acids near W261 were not having any effect on the activity of this protease. However, serine protease inhibitor AEBSF did not inhibit the activity. Through error-prone PCR we found that isoleucine 227 is important for the effective activity. The loss of activity was analyzed further by molecular modelling and comparison of WT and mutant structures. It was found that lysine introduced at position 227 is spatially very close to the catalytic triad and may disrupt electrostatic interactions in the catalytic site and thus inactivate the enzyme. We are also examining other sequence requirements for this protease activity.
We analyzed various amino acid sequence requirements for the activity of ChikV capsid protease and found that amino acids outside the catalytic triads are important for the activity.
A molecular survey of 16,057 mosquitoes captured in Southwest Germany during the summer of 2009 demonstrated the presence of Sindbis virus (SINV) in Culex spp. and Anopheles maculipennis sensu lato. Phylogenetic analysis of the German SINV strains linked them with Swedish SINV strains, the causative agent of Ockelbo disease in humans.
Arenaviridae synthesize viral mRNAs using short capped primers presumably acquired from cellular transcripts by a ‘cap-snatching’ mechanism. Here, we report the crystal structure and functional characterization of the N-terminal 196 residues (NL1) of the L protein from the prototypic arenavirus: lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. The NL1 domain is able to bind and cleave RNA. The 2.13 Å resolution crystal structure of NL1 reveals a type II endonuclease α/β architecture similar to the N-terminal end of the influenza virus PA protein. Superimposition of both structures, mutagenesis and reverse genetics studies reveal a unique spatial arrangement of key active site residues related to the PD…(D/E)XK type II endonuclease signature sequence. We show that this endonuclease domain is conserved and active across the virus families Arenaviridae, Bunyaviridae and Orthomyxoviridae and propose that the arenavirus NL1 domain is the Arenaviridae cap-snatching endonuclease.
The Arenaviridae virus family includes several life-threatening human pathogens that cause meningitis or hemorrhagic fever. These RNA viruses replicate and transcribe their genome using an RNA synthesis machinery for which no structural data currently exist. They synthesize viral mRNAs using short capped primers presumably acquired from cellular transcripts by a ‘cap-snatching’ mechanism thought to involve the large L protein, which carries RNA-dependent RNA polymerase signature sequences. Here, we report the crystal structure and functional characterization of an isolated N-terminal domain of the L protein (NL1) from the prototypic arenavirus: lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. The NL1 domain is able to bind and cleave RNA. The 2.13 Å resolution crystal structure of NL1 reveals a type II endonuclease α/β architecture similar to the N-terminal end of the influenza virus PA protein. Superimposition of both structures and mutagenesis studies reveal a unique spatial arrangement of key active site residues related to the PD…(D/E)XK type II endonuclease signature sequence. Reverse genetic studies show that mutation of active site residues selectively abolish transcription, not replication. We show that this endonuclease domain is conserved and active across the virus families: Arenaviridae, Bunyaviridae and Orthomyxoviridae and propose that the arenavirus NL1 domain is the Arenaviridae cap-snatching endonuclease.
The fruit bat species Rousettus aegyptiacus was identified as a potential reservoir for the highly pathogenic filovirus Marburg virus. To establish a basis for a molecular understanding of the biology of filoviruses in the reservoir host, we have adapted a set of molecular tools for investigation of filovirus replication in a recently developed cell line, R06E, derived from the species Rousettus aegyptiacus.
Upon infection with Ebola or Marburg viruses, R06E cells produced viral titers comparable to VeroE6 cells, as shown by TCID50 analysis. Electron microscopic analysis of infected cells revealed morphological signs of filovirus infection as described for human- and monkey-derived cell lines. Using R06E cells, we detected an unusually high amount of intracellular viral proteins, which correlated with the accumulation of high numbers of filoviral nucleocapsids in the cytoplasm. We established protocols to produce Marburg infectious virus-like particles from R06E cells, which were then used to infect naïve target cells to investigate primary transcription. This was not possible with other cell lines previously tested. Moreover, we established protocols to reliably rescue recombinant Marburg viruses from R06E cells.
These data indicated that R06E cells are highly suitable to investigate the biology of filoviruses in cells derived from their presumed reservoir.
Marburg virus and several species of Ebola virus are endemic in central Africa and cause sporadic outbreaks in this region with mortality rates of up to 90%. So far, there is no vaccination or therapy available to protect people at risk in these regions. Recently, different fruit bats have been identified as potential reservoirs. One of them is Rousettus aegyptiacus. It seems that within huge bat populations only relatively small numbers are positive for filovirus-specific antibodies or filoviral RNA, a phenomenon that is currently not understood. As a first step towards understanding the biology of filoviruses in bats, we sought to establish a model system to investigate filovirus replication in cells derived from their natural reservoir. Here, we provide the first insights into this topic by monitoring filovirus infection of a Rousettus aegyptiacus derived cell line, R06E. We were able to show that filoviruses propagate well in R06E cells, which can, therefore, be used to investigate replication and transcription of filovirus RNA and to very efficiently perform rescue of recombinant Marburg virus using reverse genetics. These results emphasize the suitability of the newly established bat cell line for filovirus research.
The central domain of the 200-kDa Lassa virus L protein is a putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. N- and C-terminal domains may harbor enzymatic functions important for viral mRNA synthesis, including capping enzymes or cap-snatching endoribonucleases. In the present study, we have employed a large-scale mutagenesis approach to map functionally relevant residues in these regions. The main targets were acidic (Asp and Glu) and basic residues (Lys and Arg) known to form catalytic and binding sites of capping enzymes and endoribonucleases. A total of 149 different mutants were generated and tested in the Lassa virus replicon system. Nearly 25% of evolutionarily highly conserved acidic and basic side chains were dispensable for function of L protein in the replicon context. The vast majority of the remaining mutants had defects in both transcription and replication. Seven residues (Asp-89, Glu-102, Asp-119, Lys-122, Asp-129, Glu-180, and Arg-185) were selectively important for mRNA synthesis. The phenotype was particularly pronounced for Asp-89, Glu-102, and Asp-129, which were indispensable for transcription but could be replaced by a variety of amino acid residues without affecting genome replication. Bioinformatics disclosed the remote similarity of this region to type IIs endonucleases. The mutagenesis was complemented by experiments with the RNA polymerase II inhibitor α-amanitin, demonstrating dependence of viral transcription from the cellular mRNA pool. In conclusion, this paper describes an N-terminal region in L protein being important for mRNA, but not genome synthesis. Bioinformatics and cell biological experiments lend support to the hypothesis that this region could be part of a cap-snatching enzyme.
Lassa fever; viruses; hemorrhagic fevers; arenavirus; Nigeria; letter
Viruses; Toscana virus; vector-borne infections; Elba; Switzerland; meningitis; sandfly; arboviruses; PCR; letter
Lassa fever; Liberia; laboratory diagnosis; reverse transcription–PCR; viruses; sensitivity; letter
To determine the specificity of Morogoro virus for its reservoir host, we studied its host range and genetic diversity in Tanzania. We found that 2 rodent species other than Mastomys natalensis mice carry arenaviruses. Analysis of 340 nt of the viral RNA polymerase gene showed sympatric occurrence of 3 distinct arenaviruses.
Old World arenaviruses; Murinae; RT-PCR; Tanzania; viruses; dispatch
Lassa virus (LASV), the causative agent of Lassa fever (LF), is endemic in West Africa, accounting for substantial morbidity and mortality. In spite of ongoing research efforts, LF pathogenesis and mechanisms of LASV immune control remain poorly understood. While normal laboratory mice are resistant to LASV, we report that mice expressing humanized instead of murine MHC class I (MHC-I) failed to control LASV infection and develop severe LF. Infection of MHC-I knockout mice confirmed a key role for MHC-I-restricted T cell responses in controlling LASV. Intriguingly we found that T cell depletion in LASV-infected HHD mice prevented disease, irrespective of high-level viremia. Widespread activation of monocyte/macrophage lineage cells, manifest through inducible NO synthase expression, and elevated IL-12p40 serum levels indicated a systemic inflammatory condition. The absence of extensive monocyte/macrophage activation in T cell-depleted mice suggested that T cell responses contribute to deleterious innate inflammatory reactions and LF pathogenesis. Our observations in mice indicate a dual role for T cells, not only protecting from LASV, but also enhancing LF pathogenesis. The possibility of T cell-driven enhancement and immunopathogenesis should be given consideration in future LF vaccine development.
Lassa virus (LASV) is the causative agent of Lassa fever (LF), accounting for substantial morbidity and mortality in West Africa. Yet the mechanisms leading to disease remain poorly understood. Here we propose a concept whereby the body's immune defense either defeats LASV rapidly or, if unsuccessful, becomes an essential facilitator of disease. This latter paradoxical postulate stems from observations in genetically engineered (HHD) mice, which we found to be susceptible to LF. HHD mice differ from resistant wild type mice in that they have a humanized repertoire of T cells, a main component of the mammalian immune system. Counterintuitively, we could protect HHD mice against LF by experimentally removing their T cells. We further found that LF correlated with widespread activation of macrophages, which again depended on T cells. Similar to T cells, macrophages are important players in our body's defense system, but their inflammatory products are also candidate mediators of LF. Taken together, these findings suggest that LF may represent an inappropriate host response to infection. Specifically, our study demonstrates a two-faced role of T cell responses against LASV. Such detrimental aspects of immune defense need to be given consideration in future LF vaccine development, to avoid enhancement of disease in vaccinated individuals.