Sequencing of a tick-borne encephalitis virus from Ixodes ricinus reveals a thermosensitive RNA switch significant for virus propagation in ectothermic arthropods

Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2011 Jun;11(6):649-58. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2010.0105. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) is a flavivirus with major impact on global health. The geographical TBEV distribution is expanding, thus making it pivotal to further characterize the natural virus populations. In this study, we completed the earlier partial sequencing of a TBEV pulled out of a pool of RNA extracted from 115 ticks collected on Torö in the Stockholm archipelago. The total RNA was sufficient for all sequencing of a TBEV genome (Torö-2003), without conventional enrichment procedures such as cell culturing or suckling mice amplification. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the genome of TBEV has been sequenced directly from an arthropod reservoir. The Torö-2003 sequence has been characterized and compared with other TBE viruses. In silico analyses of secondary RNA structures formed by the two untranslated regions revealed a temperature-sensitive structural shift between a closed replicative form and an open AUG accessible form, analogous to a recently described bacterial thermoswitch. Additionally, novel phylogenetic conserved structures were identified in the variable part of the 3'-untranslated region, and their sequence and structure similarity when compared with earlier identified structures suggests an enhancing function on virus replication and translation. We propose that the thermo-switch mechanism may explain the low TBEV prevalence often observed in environmentally sampled ticks. Finally, we were able to detect variations that help in the understanding of virus adaptations to varied environmental temperatures and mammalian hosts through a comparative approach that compares RNA folding dynamics between strains with different mammalian cell passage histories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Encephalitis Viruses, Tick-Borne / genetics*
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne / epidemiology
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne / virology
  • Ixodes / virology*
  • Mice
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • Temperature
  • Virus Replication / genetics*
  • Virus Replication / physiology


  • RNA, Viral