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Anatomy of an outbreak
Date:5/5/2011

was changing all the time, and only one minor mutation was necessary to switch the virus from aegytpi to albopictus a more widespread vector why hadn't that mutation happened in the strains that had arrived in Asia 60 years before?

"Asia is Aedes albopictus' native territory, but we can't find any evidence of chikungunya transmission by albopictus until the arrival of this new strain," said UTMB pathology professor Scott Weaver, senior author on the PNAS paper. "It was surprising to us that strains of this apparently very adaptable virus circulated in Asia for 60 years without making the adaptation that would allow them to be transmitted by albopictus."

To find out what was going on, Weaver and his colleagues lead author and postdoctoral fellow Konstantin Tsetsarkin, postdoctoral fellow Rubing Chen, research technician Grace Leal, assistant professor Naomi Forrester, professor Stephen Higgs, and research associate Jing Huang conducted experiments based on the hypothesis that some part of the Asian chikungunya strains' genetic code was suppressing the key mutation whenever it occurred and thus keeping it from infecting Aedes albopictus.

Using two different Asian strains into which they inserted the E1-A226V mutation, they systematically added additional genetic portions from the African strain, followed by specific mutations to determine which interacted with E1-A226V. Then they tested each change to see whether it affected Aedes albopictus infectivity.

Ultimately, they found that a single genetic element which also changed an amino acid in the same envelope protein altered by the E1-A226V mutation increased the Asian chikungunya strains' ability to infect Aedes albopictus by a hundredfold.

"This old Asian lineage needs an additional mutation to adapt to Aedes albopictus, and we think that's what protected India and Southeast Asia from much larger epidemics over the last 60 years," Weaver said. "But some African st
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Contact: Jim Kelly
jpkelly@utmb.edu
409-772-8791
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Source:Eurekalert

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