Herpes simplex virus can infect the mammalian brain causing lethal encephalitis (neurovirulence). Previously, herpes simplex virus mutants that are attenuated for neurovirulence have exhibited defects in replication in brain and/or blocks to replication in neuronal cells. We investigated the attenuation of neurovirulence of mutant PAAr5, which exhibits resistance to antiviral drugs due to altered viral DNA polymerase. Following intracerebral inoculation of 7-week-old CD1 mice, PAAr5 was 30-fold attenuated for neurovirulence compared to its wild-type parent. A drug-sensitive virus derived by marker rescue with DNA polymerase gene sequences exhibited neurovirulence that was essentially indistinguishable from that of wild-type virus, demonstrating that attenuation was due to a polymerase mutation. PAAr5 replicated in brain similarly to wild-type virus unlike another polymerase mutant, 615.8, that exhibited a similar degree of attenuation. The attenuation of PAAr5 was not associated with altered particle to PFU ratios nor with any obvious reductions in viral antigen expression in neurons, spread, histopathology, or TUNEL staining suggestive of apoptotic cells. Thus PAAr5 differs from other mutants that are attenuated for neurovirulence. Understanding how a polymerase mutation specifically attenuates neurovirulence may shed light on how herpes simplex virus can cause lethal encephalitis.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.