Visna virus undergoes antigenic drift during persistent infection in sheep and thus eludes neutralizing antibodies directed against its major envelope glycoprotein, gp135. Antigenic variants contain point mutations in the 3' end of the genome, presumably within the envelope glycoprotein gene. To localize the changes in the viral proteins of antigenic mutants, we isolated 35 monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against the envelope glycoprotein gp135 or the major core protein p27 of visna virus. The MAbs defined five partially overlapping epitopes on gp135. We used the MAbs and polyclonal immune sera directed against visna virus, gp135, or p27 in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays to compare visna virus (strain 1514) with antigenic mutants (LV1-1 to LV1-6) previously isolated from a single sheep persistently infected with plaque-purified strain 1514. Polyclonal immune sera and anti-core p27 MAbs failed to distinguish antigenic differences among the viruses. By contrast, the anti-gp135 MAbs detected changes in all five epitopes of the envelope glycoprotein. Three gp135 epitopes, prominently exposed on strain 1514, were lost or obscured on the mutants; two covert gp135 epitopes, poorly exposed on strain 1514, were reciprocally revealed on the mutants. Even virus LV1-2, which is indistinguishable from parental strain 1514 by serum neutralization tests and which differs from it by only two unique oligonucleotides on RNase-T1 fingerprinting, displayed global changes in gp135. Our data suggest that (i) visna virus variants may emerge more frequently during persistent infection than can be detected by serological tests involving the use of polyclonal immune sera, and (ii) the extent of phenotypic changes in their envelope glycoproteins may be greater than predicted by the small number of genetic changes previously observed. We suggest that topographical rearrangements in the three-dimensional structure of gp135 may magnify the primary amino acid sequence changes caused by point mutations in the env gene. This may complicate strategies to construct lentiviral vaccines by using the envelope glycoprotein.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science