J Virol 2004 Jul;78(13):6799-807
Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 52242, USA.
Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is considered to be one of the most genetically stable of all the herpesviruses. Yet two VZV strains with a D150N missense mutation within the gE glycoprotein were isolated in North America in 1998 and 2002. The mutant strains have an accelerated cell spread phenotype, which distinguishes them from all wild-type and laboratory viruses. Since the VZV genome contains 70 additional open reading frames (ORFs), the possibility existed that the phenotypic change was actually due to an as-yet-undiscovered mutation or deletion elsewhere in the genome. To exclude this hypothesis, the entire genomes of the two mutant viruses were sequenced and found to contain 124,883 (VZV-MSP) and 125,459 (VZV-BC) nucleotides. Coding single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified in 14 ORFs. One missense mutation was discovered in gH, but none was found in gB, gI, gL, or gK. There were no coding SNPs in the major regulatory protein ORF 62. One polymorphism was discovered which could never have been anticipated based on current knowledge of herpesvirus genomics, namely, the origins of replication differed from those in the prototype strain but not in a manner expected to affect cell spread. When the two complete mutant VZV sequences were surveyed in their entirety, the most reasonable conclusion was that the increased cell spread phenotype was dependent substantially or solely on the single D150N polymorphism in glycoprotein gE. The genomic results also expanded the evolutionary database by identifying which VZV ORFs were more likely to mutate over time.