The family Picornaviridae includes several viruses of great economic and medical importance. Poliovirus replicates in the human digestive tract, causing disease that may range in severity from a mild infection to a fatal paralysis. The human rhinovirus is the most important etiologic agent of the common cold in adults and children. Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) causes one of the most economically important diseases in cattle. These viruses have in common a capsid structure composed of 60 copies of four different proteins, VP1 to VP4, and their 3D structures show similar general features. In this study we describe the differences in stability against high pressure and cold denaturation of these viruses. Both poliovirus and rhinovirus are stable to high pressure at room temperature, because pressures up to 2.4 kbar are not enough to promote viral disassembly and inactivation. Within the same pressure range, FMDV particles are dramatically affected by pressure, with a loss of infectivity of more than 4 log units observed. The dissociation of polio and rhino viruses can be observed only under pressure (2.4 kbar) at low temperatures in the presence of subdenaturing concentrations of urea (1-2 M). The pressure and low temperature data reveal clear differences in stability among the three picornaviruses, FMDV being the most sensitive, polio being the most resistant, and rhino having intermediate stability. Whereas rhino and poliovirus differ little in stability (less than 10 kcal/mol at 0°C), the difference in free energy between these two viruses and FMDV was remarkable (more than 200 kcal/mol of particle). These differences are crucial to understanding the different factors that control the assembly and disassembly of the virus particles during their life cycle. The inactivation of these viruses by pressure (combined or not with low temperature) has potential as a method for producing vaccines.
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