The arbovirus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE), causes disease in humans and equines during periodic outbreaks. A murine model, which closely mimics the encephalitic form of the disease, was used to study mechanisms of attenuation. Molecularly cloned VEE viruses were used: a virulent, epizootic, parental virus and eight site-specific glycoprotein mutants derived from the parental virus. Four of these mutants were selected in vitro for rapid binding and penetration, resulting in positive charge changes in the E2 glycoprotein from glutamic acid or threonine to lysine (N. L. Davis, N. Powell, G. F. Greenwald, L. V. Willis, B. J. Johnson, J. F. Smith, and R. E. Johnston, Virology 183, 20-31, 1991). Tissue culture adaptation also selected for the ability to bind heparan sulfate as evidenced by inhibition of plaque formation by heparin, decreased infectivity for CHO cells deficient for heparan sulfate, and tight binding to heparin-agarose beads. In contrast, the parental virus and three other mutants did not use heparan sulfate as a receptor. All eight mutants were partially or completely attenuated with respect to mortality in adult mice after a subcutaneous inoculation, and the five mutants that interacted with heparan sulfate in vitro had low morbidity (0-50%). These same five mutants were cleared rapidly from the blood after an intravenous inoculation. In contrast, the parental virus and the other three mutants were cleared very slowly. In summary, the five VEE viruses that contain tissue-culture-selected mutations interacted with cell surface heparan sulfate, and this interaction correlated with low morbidity and rapid clearance from the blood. We propose that one mechanism of attenuation is rapid viral clearance in vivo due to binding of the virus to ubiquitous heparan sulfate.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.