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Cleavage site of Newcastle disease virus determines viral fitness in persistent infection cells

Liu H., Servan de Almeida R., Gil P., Albina E.. 2018. Veterinary Microbiology, 216 : p. 123-131.

DOI: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2018.02.006

Newcastle disease, caused by infection with virulent strains of Newcastle disease virus (NDV), poses a risk for the poultry industry. The virulence of NDV is mainly determined by the cleavage site of F protein. Lentogenic NDV can become velogenic after passages in SPF chicken brain and air sac based on some strains isolated from water birds, because the proportion of virulent-related strains gradually increases. In contrast, this proportion remains unchanged if NDV is passaged via 10-day-old SPF chicken embryos. This information suggests that environmental conditions rather than mutation affect NDV fitness in quasispecies. However, it is unknown how the environment selects virulent-related strains from a viral population. In this study, velogenic and lentogenic NDV marked by green or red fluorescence were used to establish persistent infection (PI) in BHK-21 cells. Monitoring viruses by different methods, we found that, without competition, persistently infected cells harbored lentogenic and velogenic NDV strains similarly in terms of viral release, viral spread and the period of persistent viral infection. In contrast, under competitive co-infection, velogenic NDV became dominant in quasispecies from the fifth passage of PI cells, which resulted in the progressive disappearance of the lentogenic NDV strain. This domination was concomitant with a short-term reduction in the superinfection exclusion and supernatant interference in PI cells resulting in a velogenic virus rebound. We concluded that virulent-related F protein cleavage site facilitates the spread and replication of NDV in conditions under which cells do not secret trypsin-like proteases and do not inhibit free virus infection, resulting in a gradual increase in virulent strains in quasispecies with the number of passages.

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