Variability of persisting MHV RNA sequences constituting immune and replication-relevant domains.

Virology

PubMedID: 9601524

Bergmann C, Dimacali E, Stohl S, Wei W, Lai MM, Tahara S, Marten N. Variability of persisting MHV RNA sequences constituting immune and replication-relevant domains. Virology. 1998;244(2):563-72.
Survivors of acute infection with the neurotropic JHM strain of mouse hepatitis virus develop a persistent infection of the central nervous system associated with chronic ongoing demyelination. Persistence is characterized by viral RNA in the absence of infectious virus. To associate persistence with possible immune evasion and/or replication defects, viral RNA from brains of acutely and persistently infected mice was examined for mutations by reverse transcriptase-PCR. Sequences analyzed included the encapsidation sequence (ECS), the transmembrane domains of the matrix (M) protein, and a cytotoxic T cell (CTL) epitope within the nucleocapsid (N) protein. The ECS, present only on genomic RNA, revealed minimal variability and was detected out to 120 days postinfection, suggesting low levels of replication. The M gene sequence also remained stable during persistence despite random mutations during the acute phase. Although the N gene sequence exhibited the greatest diversity, mutations were random and not selected for during persistence. A single exception was detected comprising a prominent Pro to Ser substitution in a region of N not associated with any known regulatory or immune function. Of the N gene mutations found within the CTL epitope in responder mice (H-2d), one resulted in reduced CTL recognition with no evidence of antagonist activity. However, this mutation was also detected in nonresponder mice (H-2b), suggesting that escape variants arising from CTL pressure play no role in establishing persistence in immunocompetent hosts infected as adults.