, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 513-521

A single nucleotide change in the mumps virus F gene affects virus fusogenicity in vitro and virulence in vivo

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Mumps virus is highly neurotropic, with evidence of infection of the central nervous system in more than half of clinical cases. In the prevaccine era, mumps was a major cause of viral meningitis in most developed countries. Despite efforts to attenuate the virus, some mumps vaccines have retained virulence properties and have caused aseptic meningitis in vaccinees, resulting in public resistance to vaccination in some countries. Ensuring the safety of mumps vaccines is an important public health objective, as the need for robust immunization programs has been made clear by the recent resurgence of mumps outbreaks worldwide, including the United States, which in 2006 experienced its largest mumps outbreak in 20 years. To better understand the molecular basis of mumps virus attenuation, the authors developed two infectious full-length cDNA clones for a highly neurovirulent strain of mumps virus. The clones differed at only one site, possessing either an A or G at nucleotide position 271 in the F gene, to represent the heterogeneity identified in the original virulent clinical isolate. In comparison to the clinical isolate, virus rescued from the A-variant cDNA clone grew to higher cumulative titers in vitro but exhibited similar cytopathic effects in vitro and virulence in vivo. In contrast, virus rescued from the G-variant cDNA clone, in comparison to the clinical isolate and the A-variant, was more fusogenic in vitro but replicated to lower cumulative titers and was less neurovirulent in vivo. These data suggest that nucleotide position 271 in the F gene plays a significant role in virus pathogenesis. This infectious clone system will serve as a key tool for further examination of the molecular basis for mumps virus neurovirulence and neuroattenuation.

Tahir Malik and Christian Sauder contributed equally to this work.
Salary support for C. Sauder and C. Wolbert was provided by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.