Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) viruses are important, naturally emerging zoonotic viruses. They are significant human and equine pathogens which still pose a serious public health threat. Both VEE and EEE cause chronic infection in mosquitoes and persistent or chronic infection in mosquito-derived cell lines. In contrast, vertebrate hosts infected with either virus develop an acute infection with high-titer viremia and encephalitis, followed by host death or virus clearance by the immune system. Accordingly, EEE and VEE infection in vertebrate cell lines is highly cytopathic. To further understand the pathogenesis of alphaviruses on molecular and cellular levels, we designed EEE- and VEE-based replicons and investigated their replication and their ability to generate cytopathic effect (CPE) and to interfere with other viral infections. VEE and EEE replicons appeared to be less cytopathic than Sindbis virus-based constructs that we designed in our previous research and readily established persistent replication in BHK-21 cells. VEE replicons required additional mutations in the 5′ untranslated region and nsP2 or nsP3 genes to further reduce cytopathicity and to become capable of persisting in cells with no defects in alpha/beta interferon production or signaling. The results indicated that alphaviruses strongly differ in virus-host cell interactions, and the ability to cause CPE in tissue culture does not necessarily correlate with pathogenesis and strongly depends on the sequence of viral nonstructural proteins.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science