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The emergence of new epidemic variants of alphaviruses poses a public health risk. It is associated with adaptive mutations that often cause increased pathogenicity. Getah virus (GETV), a neglected and re-emerging mosquito-borne alphavirus, poses threat to many domestic animals and probably even humans. At present, the underlying mechanisms of GETV pathogenesis are not well defined. We identified a residue in the E2 glycoprotein that is critical for viral adsorption to cultured cells and pathogenesis in vivo. Viruses containing an arginine instead of a lysine at residue 253 displayed enhanced infectivity in mammalian cells and diminished virulence in a mouse model of GETV disease. Experiments in cell culture show that heparan sulfate (HS) is a new attachment factor for GETV, and the exchange Lys253Arg improves virus attachment by enhancing binding to HS. The mutation also results in more effective binding to glycosaminoglycan (GAG), linked to low virulence due to rapid virus clearance from the circulation. Localization of residue 253 in the three-dimensional structure of the spike revealed several other basic residues in E2 and E1 in close vicinity that might constitute an HS-binding site different from sites previously identified in other alphaviruses. Overall, our study reveals that HS acts as the attachment factor of GETV and provides convincing evidence for an HS-binding determinant at residue 253 in the E2 glycoprotein of GETV, which contributes to infectivity and virulence. IMPORTANCE Due to decades of inadequate monitoring and lack of vaccines and specific treatment, a large number of people have been infected with alphaviruses. GETV is a re-emerging alphavirus that has the potential to infect humans. This specificity of the GETV disease, particularly its propensity for chronic musculoskeletal manifestations, underscores the need to identify the genetic determinants that govern GETV virulence in the host. Using a mouse model, we show that a single amino acid substitution at residue 253 in the E2 glycoprotein causes attenuation of the virus. Residue 253 might be part of a binding site for HS, a ubiquitous attachment factor on the cell surface. The substitution of Lys by Arg improves cell attachment of the virus in vitro and virus clearance from the blood in vivo by enhancing binding to HS. In summary, we have identified HS as a new attachment factor for GETV and the corresponding binding site in the E2 protein for the first time. Our research potentially improved understanding of the pathogenic mechanism of GETV and provided a potential target for the development of new attenuated vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Citation

Ningning Wang, Xiaofeng Zhai, Xiaoling Li, Yu Wang, Wan-Ting He, Zhiwen Jiang, Michael Veit, Shuo Su. Attenuation of Getah Virus by a Single Amino Acid Substitution at Residue 253 of the E2 Protein that Might Be Part of a New Heparan Sulfate Binding Site on Alphaviruses. Journal of virology. 2022 Mar 23;96(6):e0175121

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PMID: 34986000

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