Characterization of Clone 13, a Naturally Attenuated Avirulent Isolate of Rift Valley Fever Virus, which is Altered in the Small Segment

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  • Laboratoire des Bunyavirides, Institut Pasteur, Pasteur Merieux Serums et Vaccins, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Paris, France
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The 74HB59 strain of Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus, isolated from a human case in the Central African Republic, was shown to be composed of a heterogeneous population of viruses when plaque-purified clones were analyzed for their reactivity with monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) directed against the nucleocapsid (N) protein or the nonstructural (NSs) protein. One of these clones, C13, was of particular interest in that it proved to be avirulent in mice and hamsters, and highly immunogenic. Although C13 showed normal reactivity with a large panel of MAbs directed at the glycoproteins, it failed to react with specific MAbs or polyclonal antibodies directed at the NSs protein and with a specific MAb recognizing the N protein of the Egyptian strains. Consequently, the small RNA segment, which encodes the N and NSs proteins in an ambisense strategy, was sequenced and compared with the existing sequence of the attenuated MP-12 RVF virus strain. We found that the NSs gene contained, in addition to two conservative coding changes, a large internal deletion of 549 nucleotides that removes 69% of the open reading frame but conserves in-frame the N and C termini of the predicted translation product. In addition, the sequence revealed that the N protein of C13 contained a single amino acid change. Clone C13 replicated normally in certain cell types in vitro and in Culex pipiens mosquitoes after intrathoracic inoculation, but established abortive infections in MRC-5 human fibroblasts.