Indexed on: 31 Mar '16Published on: 31 Mar '16Published in: The Journal of general virology
Alphaviruses are enveloped viruses with a positive-stranded RNA genome, of the family Togaviridae. In mammals and birds they are mosquito-transmitted and are of veterinary and medical importance. They cause primarily two types of disease: encephalitis and polyarthritis. Here we review attempts to understand the molecular basis of encephalitis and virulence for the central nervous system (CNS) in mouse models. Sindbis virus (SINV) was the first virus to be studied in this way. Other viruses analyzed are Semliki Forest virus (SFV), Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Eastern equine encephalitis virus and Western equine encephalitis virus. Neurovirulence was found to be associated with damage to neurons in the CNS. It mapped mainly to the E2 region of the genome, and to the nsP3 gene. Also, avirulent natural isolates of both SINV and SFV have been found to have more rapid cleavage of nonstructural proteins due to mutations in the nsP1-nsP2 cleavage site. Immune-mediated demyelination for avirulent SFV has been shown to be associated with infection of oligodendrocytes. For Chikungunya virus, an emerging alphavirus that uncommonly causes encephalitis, analysis of the molecular basis of CNS pathogenicity is beginning. Experiments on SINV and SFV have indicated that virulence may be related to the resistance of virulent virus to interferon action. Although the E2 protein may be involved in tropism for neurons and passage across the blood-brain barrier, the role of the nsP3 protein during infection of neurons is unknown. More information in these areas may help to further explain the neurovirulence of alphaviruses.