Infectious vaccine-derived rubella viruses emerge, persist, and evolve in cutaneous granulomas of children with primary immunodeficiencies

PLoS Pathog. 2019 Oct 28;15(10):e1008080. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008080. eCollection 2019 Oct.


Rubella viruses (RV) have been found in an association with granulomas in children with primary immune deficiencies (PID). Here, we report the recovery and characterization of infectious immunodeficiency-related vaccine-derived rubella viruses (iVDRV) from diagnostic skin biopsies of four patients. Sequence evolution within PID hosts was studied by comparison of the complete genomic sequences of the iVDRVs with the genome of the vaccine virus RA27/3. The degree of divergence of each iVDRV correlated with the duration of persistence indicating continuous intrahost evolution. The evolution rates for synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions were estimated to be 5.7 x 10-3 subs/site/year and 8.9 x 10-4 subs/site/year, respectively. Mutational spectra and signatures indicated a major role for APOBEC cytidine deaminases and a secondary role for ADAR adenosine deaminases in generating diversity of iVDRVs. The distributions of mutations across the genes and 3D hotspots for amino acid substitutions in the E1 glycoprotein identified regions that may be under positive selective pressure. Quasispecies diversity was higher in granulomas than in recovered infectious iVDRVs. Growth properties of iVDRVs were assessed in WI-38 fibroblast cultures. None of the iVDRV isolates showed complete reversion to wild type phenotype but the replicative and persistence characteristics of iVDRVs were different from those of the RA27/3 vaccine strain, making predictions of iVDRV transmissibility and teratogenicity difficult. However, detection of iVDRV RNA in nasopharyngeal specimen and poor neutralization of some iVDRV strains by sera from vaccinated persons suggests possible public health risks associated with iVDRV carriers. Detection of IgM antibody to RV in sera of two out of three patients may be a marker of virus persistence, potentially useful for identifying patients with iVDRV before development of lesions. Studies of the evolutionary dynamics of iVDRV during persistence will contribute to development of infection control strategies and antiviral therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • APOBEC Deaminases / metabolism
  • Adenosine Deaminase / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Line
  • Child
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Genome, Viral / genetics
  • Granuloma / virology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine / immunology
  • Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases / immunology*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Rubella virus / genetics*
  • Rubella virus / isolation & purification*
  • Skin / virology
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics
  • Virus Shedding / genetics


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • E1 envelope protein, Rubella virus
  • ADAR1 protein, human
  • Adenosine Deaminase
  • APOBEC Deaminases