The heterogeneous nature of the yellow fever (YF) 17D-204 vaccine virus population was exploited in this study to isolate virus variants able to escape neutralization by the 17D-204 vaccine-specific MAb 864. The conformational change on the virus surface that resulted in the loss of the MAb 864-defined epitope was effected in each variant by a single amino acid mutation in the envelope (E) protein at either position E-305 or E-325. Interestingly, both positions were mutated during attenuation of the 17D-204 vaccine substrain from the wildtype Asibi strain. The mutations in several of the variants represented reversion to the wildtype Asibi virus sequence consistent with loss of a 17D-204 substrain-specific epitope. The majority of the variant viruses were shown to have altered mouse neurovirulence phenotypes, ranging from complete avirulence through to increased virulence. The avirulent variants are the first flavivirus MAb-neutralization-resistant variants to be attenuated for neurovirulence in the adult mouse model. Overall, the results indicate that the E protein epitope recognized by MAb 864 defines a functionally important region that encodes major molecular determinants of YF virus pathogenesis in vivo.
- 17D-204 substrain-specific epitope
- Envelope protein
- Yellow fever virus
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