The mosquito-borne West Nile virus (WNV) is responsible for outbreaks of viral encephalitis in humans, horses, and birds, with particularly virulent strains causing recent outbreaks of disease in eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Australia. Previous studies have phylogenetically separated WNV strains into two main genetic lineages (I and II) containing virulent strains associated with neurological disease. Several WNV-like strains clustering outside these lineages have been identified and form an additional five proposed lineages. However, little is known about whether these strains have the potential to induce disease. In a comparative analysis with the highly virulent lineage I American strain (WNVNY99), the low-pathogenicity lineage II strain (B956), a benign Australian strain, Kunjin (WNVKUN), the African WNV-like Koutango virus (WNVKOU), and a WNV-like isolate from Sarawak, Malaysia (WNVSarawak), were assessed for neuroinvasive properties in a murine model and for their replication kinetics in vitro. While WNVNY99 replicated to the highest levels in vitro, in vivo mouse challenge revealed that WNVKOU was more virulent, with a shorter time to onset of neurological disease and higher morbidity. Histological analysis of WNVKOUand WNVNY99-infected brain and spinal cords demonstrated more prominent meningoencephalitis and the presence of viral antigen in WNVKOU-infected mice. Enhanced virulence of WNVKOU also was associated with poor viral clearance in the periphery (sera and spleen), a skewed innate immune response, and poor neutralizing antibody development. These data demonstrate, for the first time, potent neuroinvasive and neurovirulent properties of a WNV-like virus outside lineages I and II.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science