A highly virulent strain (Hypr) of tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) was serially subcultured in the mammalian porcine kidney stable (PS) and Ixodes ricinus tick (IRE/CTVM19) cell lines, producing three viral variants. These variants exhibited distinct plaque sizes and virulence in a mouse model. Comparing the full-genome sequences of all variants, several nucleotide changes were identified in different genomic regions. Furthermore, different sequential variants were revealed to co-exist within one sample as quasispecies. Interestingly, the above-mentioned nucleotide changes found within the whole genome sequences of the new variants were present alongside the nucleotide sequence of the parental strain, which was represented as a minority quasispecies. These observations further imply that TBEV exists as a heterogeneous population that contains virus variants pre-adapted to reproduction in different environments, probably enabling virus survival in ticks and mammals.
Keywords: TBEV; flavivirus adaptation; genome mutation; host alternation; neuroinvasiveness; quasispecies; tick cell line.