Genetic diversity and relationships among Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus field isolates from Colombia and Venezuela.

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  • 1 Center for Tropical Disease and Department of Pathology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston 77555-0609, USA.

During field studies of enzootic Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) viruses associated with epizootic emergence, a large number of virus isolates were made in sylvatic foci of Venezuela and Colombia. To rapidly characterize these isolates, antigenic subtypes were determined by means of immunofluorescence and by single-strand conformational polymorphism (SSCP) analysis by use of an 856-bp fragment from the P62 gene, which we used to distinguish genetic variants. Representative isolates were sequenced to assess the sensitivity of SSCP to detect genetic differences. The SSCP analysis distinguished isolates differing by as little as 1 nucleotide; overall, differences of > or = 1 nucleotide were recognized 89% of the time, and the sensitivity to distinguish strains that differed by only 1 or 4 nucleotides was 17 and 57%, respectively. Phylogenetic analyses of representative sequences showed that all recent isolates from the Catatumbo region of western Venezuela and the middle Magdalena Valley of Colombia were closely related to epizootic subtype IAB and IC strains; strains from Yaracuy and Miranda States were more distantly related. Cocirculation of the same virus genotype in both Colombian and Venezuelan foci indicated that these viruses are readily transported between enzootic regions separated by > 300 km. The SSCP analysis appears to be a simple, fast, and relatively efficient method of screening VEE virus isolates to identify meaningful genetic variants.