Human noroviruses (NoVs) are the main etiological agents of acute gastroenteritis worldwide. While NoVs are highly diverse (more than 30 genotypes have been detected in humans), during the last 40 years most outbreaks and epidemics have been caused by GII.4 genotype strains, raising questions about their persistence in the population. Among other potential explanations, immune evasion is considered to be a main driver of their success. In order to study antibody recognition and evasion in detail, we analyzed a conformational epitope recognized by a monoclonal antibody (3C3G3) by phage display, site-directed mutagenesis, and surface plasmon resonance. Our results show that the predicted epitope is composed of 11 amino acids within the P domain: P245, E247, I389, Q390, R397, R435, G443, Y444, P445, N446, and D448. Only two of them, R397 and D448, differ from the homologous variant (GII.4 Den-Haag_2006b) and from a previous variant (GII.4 VA387_1996) that is not recognized by the antibody. A double mutant derived from the VA387_1996 variant containing both changes, Q396R and N447D, is recognized by the 3C3G3 monoclonal antibody, confirming the participation of the two sites in the epitope recognized by the antibody. Furthermore, a single change, Q396R, is able to modify the histo-blood group antigen (HBGA) recognition pattern. These results provide evidence that the epitope recognized by the 3C3G3 antibody is involved in the virus-host interactions, both at the immunological and at the receptor levels.
Importance: Human noroviruses are the main cause of viral diarrhea worldwide in people of all ages. Noroviruses can infect individuals who had been previously exposed to the same or different norovirus genotypes. Norovirus genotype GII.4 has been reported to be most prevalent during the last 40 years. In the present study, we describe a novel viral epitope identified by a monoclonal antibody and located within the highly diverse P domain of the capsid protein. The evolution of this epitope along with sequential GII.4 variants has allowed noroviruses to evade previously elicited antibodies, thus explaining how the GII.4 genotype can persist over long periods, reinfecting the population. Our results also show that the epitope participates in the recognition of host receptors that have evolved over time, as well.
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