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Evolution subverting essentiality: dispensability of the cell attachment Arg-Gly-Asp motif in multiply passaged foot-and-mouth disease virus

Martinez, M.A., Verdaguer, N., Mateu, M.G., Domingo, E.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1997 v.94 no.13 pp. 6798-6802
Aphthovirus, coat proteins, antigenic variation, epitopes, amino acid sequences, evolution, mutants, monoclonal antibodies, virus replication, kidneys, cell lines, hamsters, mutation, viral antigens
Aphthoviruses use a conserved Arg-Gly-Asp triplet for attachment to host cells and this motif is believed to be essential for virus viability. Here we report that this triplet--which is also a widespread motif involved in cell-to-cell adhesion--can become dispensable upon short-term evolution of the virus harboring it. Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), which was multiply passaged in cell culture, showed an altered repertoire of antigenic variants resistant to a neutralizing monoclonal antibody. The altered repertoire includes variants with substitutions at the Arg-Gly-Asp motif. Mutants lacking this sequence replicated normally in cell culture and were indistinguishable from the parental virus. Studies with individual FMDV clones indicate that amino acid replacements on the capsid surface located around the loop harboring the Arg-Gly-Asp triplet may mediate in the dispensability of this motif. The results show that FMDV quasispecies evolving in a constant biological environment have the capability of rendering totally dispensable a receptor recognition motif previously invariant, and to ensure an alternative pathway for normal viral replication. Thus, variability of highly conserved motifs, even those that viruses have adapted from functional cellular motifs, can contribute to phenotypic flexibility of RNA viruses in nature.