A molecular clone of mouse-neuroadapted yellow fever 17D virus (SPYF-MN) was used to identify critical determinants of viral neuroinvasiveness in a SCID mouse model. Virus derived from this clone differs from nonneuroinvasive YF5.2iv virus at 29 nucleotide positions, encoding 13 predicted amino acid substitutions and 2 substitutions in the 3′ untranslated region (UTR). The virulence determinants of SPYF-MN for SCID mice were identified by constructing and characterizing intratypic viruses in which the E protein of SPYF-MN was expressed in the YF5.2iv background (SPYF-E) or the E protein of YF5.2iv was expressed in the SPYF-MN background (YF5.2-E). SPYF-E caused lethal encephalitis in young adult SCID mice after intraperitoneal inoculation, with average survival times and tissue virus burdens resembling those of mice inoculated with the parental SPYF-MN virus. To define which domains of the E protein are involved in neuroinvasiveness, two viruses were tested in which the amino acid substitutions in domains I-II and III were segregated. This revealed that substitutions in domain III (residues 305, 326, and 380) were critical for the neuroinvasive phenotype, based on average survival times and tissue burdens of infectious virus. Comparison of growth properties of the various intratypic viruses in cell culture indicated that no inherent defects in replication efficiency were likely to account for the biological differences observed in these experiments. These findings demonstrate that the E protein is a critical factor for yellow fever virus neuropathogenesis in the SCID mouse model and that the neuroinvasive properties depend principally on functions contributed by domain III of this protein. To assess whether critical determinants for neuroinvasion of normal ICR mice by SPYF virus were also in the E protein, sequences of viruses recovered from brains of ICR mice succumbing to encephalitis with the parental SPYF virus were derived. No differences were found in the E protein; however, two substitutions were present in the 3′ UTR compared to that of SPYF-MN, one of which is predicted to alter RNA secondary structure in this region. These findings suggest that the 3′ UTR may also affect neuroinvasiveness of SPYF virus in the mouse model
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