A virulent (P18) strain of the Pichinde arenavirus produces a disease in guinea pigs that somewhat mimics human Lassa fever, whereas an avirulent (P2) strain of this virus is attenuated in infected animals. It has been speculated that the composition of viral genomes may confer the degree of virulence in an infected host; the complete sequence of the viral genomes, however, is not known. Here, we provide for the first time genomic sequences of the S and L segments for both the P2 and P18 strains. Sequence comparisons identify three mutations in the GP1 subunit of the viral glycoprotein, one in the nucleoprotein NP, and five in the viral RNA polymerase L protein. These mutations, alone or in combination, may contribute to the acquired virulence of Pichinde virus infection in animals. The three amino acid changes in the variable region of the GP1 glycoprotein subunit may affect viral entry by altering its receptor-binding activity. While NP has previously been shown to modulate host immune responses to viral infection, we found that the R374 K change in this protein does not affect the NP function of suppressing interferon-β expression. Four out of the five amino acid changes in the L protein occur in a small region of the protein that may contribute to viral virulence by enhancing its function in viral genomic RNA synthesis.
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