Rift Valley fever is a mosquito-borne zoonotic disease endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV; genus Phlebovirus, family Bunyaviridae) causes high rates of abortion and fetal malformation in pregnant ruminants, and haemorrhagic fever, neurological disorders or blindness in humans. The MP-12 strain is a highly efficacious and safe live-attenuated vaccine candidate for both humans and ruminants. However, MP-12 lacks a marker to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals. In this study, we originally aimed to characterize the efficacy of a recombinant RVFV MP-12 strain encoding Toscana virus (TOSV) NSs gene in place of MP-12 NSs (rMP12- TOSNSs). TOSV NSs promotes the degradation of dsRNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR) and inhibits interferon-b gene up-regulation without suppressing host general transcription. Unexpectedly, rMP12-TOSNSs increased death in vaccinated outbred mice and inbred BALB/c or C57BL/6 mice. Immunohistochemistry showed diffusely positive viral antigens in the thalamus, hypothalamus and brainstem, including the medulla. No viral antigens were detected in spleen or liver, which is similar to the antigen distribution of moribund mice infected with MP-12. These results suggest that rMP12-TOSNSs retains neuroinvasiveness in mice. Our findings demonstrate that rMP12-TOSNSs causes neuroinvasion without any hepatic disease and will be useful for studying the neuroinvasion mechanism of RVFV and TOSV.
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