Sequence analysis of the spike protein gene of murine coronavirus variants: study of genetic sites affecting neuropathogenicity

Virology. 1992 Feb;186(2):742-9. doi: 10.1016/0042-6822(92)90041-m.


Mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), a coronavirus, causes encephalitis and demyelination in susceptible rodents. Previous investigations have shown that the MHV spike (S) protein is a critical determinant of viral tropism and pathogenicity in mice and rats. To understand the molecular basis of MHV neuropathogenesis, we studied the spike protein gene sequences of several neutralization-resistant variants of the JHM strain of MHV, which were selected with monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) specific for the S protein. We found that variant 2.2-V-1, which was selected with MAb J.2.2 and primarily caused demyelination, had a single point mutation at nucleotide (NT) 3340, as compared to the parental JHM virus, which predominantly caused encephalitis. This site was in the S2 subunit of the S protein. In contrast, variant 7.2-V-1, which was selected with MAb J.7.2 and primarily caused encephalitis, had two point mutations at NT 1766 and 1950, which were in the S1 subunit. Finally, the double mutant 2.2/7.2-V-2, which was selected with both MAbs J.2.2 and J.7.2, and was attenuated with respect to both virulence and the ability to cause demyelination, had a deletion spanning from NT 1523 to 1624 in the S1 and a point mutation at NT 3340 in the S2. We conclude that at least two regions of the S protein contribute to neuropathogenicity of MHV. We have also isolated a partial revertant of 2.2-V-1, which was partially resistant to MAb J.2.2 but retained the same neuropathogenicity as the variant 2.2-V-1. This revertant retained the mutation at NT 3340, but had a second-site mutation at NT 1994, further confirming that NT 3340 contributed to the pathogenic phenotype of MHV. By comparing these results with MHV variants isolated in other laboratories, which had mutations in other sites on the S gene and yet retained the demyelinating ability, we suggest that the ability of JHM viruses to induce demyelination is determined by the interaction of multiple sites on the S gene, rather than the characteristics of a single, unique site. Our study also revealed the possible presence of microheterogeneity of S gene sequence, particularly in the S1 region, in these viruses. The sequence microheterogeneity may also contribute to the differences in their biological properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Base Sequence
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / microbiology*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Coronaviridae / genetics
  • Coronaviridae / pathogenicity*
  • Coronaviridae Infections / microbiology*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Membrane Glycoproteins*
  • Mice
  • Neutralization Tests
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics*
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • spike glycoprotein, SARS-CoV
  • spike protein, mouse hepatitis virus