Rodent brain-adapted measles virus (MV) strains, such as CAM/RB and recombinant MVs based on the Edmonston strain containing the haemagglutinin (H) of CAM/RB, cause acute encephalitis after intracerebral infection of newborn rodents. We have demonstrated that rodent neurovirulence is modulated by two mutations at amino acid positions 195 and 200 in the H protein, one of these positions (200) being a potential glycosylation site. In order to analyse the effects of specific amino acids at these positions, we introduced a range of individual and combined mutations into the open reading frame of the H gene to generate a number of eukaryotic expression plasmids. The functionality of the mutant H proteins was assessed in transfected cells and by generating recombinant viruses. Interestingly, viruses caused acute encephalitis only if the amino acid Ser at position 200 was coupled with Gly at position 195, whereas viruses with single or combined mutations at these positions, including glycosylation at position 200, were attenuated. Neurovirulence was associated with virus spread and induction of neuronal apoptosis, whereas attenuated viruses failed to infect brain cells. Similar results were obtained by using primary brain-cell cultures. Our findings indicate that a structural alteration in the stem 2 region of the H protein at position 195 or 200 interferes with infectivity of rodent neurons, and suggest that the interaction of the viral attachment protein with cellular receptors on neurons is affected.
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