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MBio 2019 Sep 24;10(5):e02202-19

Population genomics of GII.4 noroviruses reveal complex diversification and new antigenic sites involved in the emergence of pandemic strains.

Tohma K, Lepore CJ, Gao Y, Ford-Siltz LA, Parra GI


GII.4 noroviruses are a major cause of acute gastroenteritis. Their dominance has been partially explained by the continuous emergence of antigenically distinct variants. To gain insights into the mechanisms of viral emergence and population dynamics of GII.4 noroviruses, we performed large-scale genomics, structural, and mutational analyses of the viral capsid protein (VP1). GII.4 noroviruses exhibited a periodic replacement of predominant variants with accumulation of amino acid substitutions. Genomic analyses revealed (i) a large proportion (87%) of conserved residues; (ii) variable residues that map on the previously determined antigenic sites; and (iii) variable residues that map outside the antigenic sites. Residues in the third pattern category formed motifs on the surface of VP1, which suggested extensions of previously predicted and new uncharacterized antigenic sites. The role of two motifs (C and G) in the antigenic makeup of the GII.4 capsid protein was confirmed with monoclonal antibodies and carbohydrate blocking assays. Amino acid profiles from antigenic sites (A, C, D, E, and G) correlated with the circulation patterns of GII.4 variants, with three of them (A, C, and G) containing residues (352, 357, 368, and 378) linked with the diversifying selective pressure on the emergence of new GII.4 variants. Notably, the emergence of each variant was followed by stochastic diversification with minimal changes that did not progress toward the next variant. This report provides a methodological framework for antigenic characterization of viruses and expands our understanding of the dynamics of GII.4 noroviruses and could facilitate the design of cross-reactive vaccines. IMPORTANCE: Noroviruses are an important cause of viral gastroenteritis around the world. An obstacle delaying the development of norovirus vaccines is inadequate understanding of the role of norovirus diversity in immunity. Using a population genomics approach, we identified new residues on the viral capsid protein (VP1) from GII.4 noroviruses, the predominant genotype, that appear to be involved in the emergence and antigenic topology of GII.4 variants. Careful monitoring of the substitutions in those residues involved in the diversification and emergence of new viruses could help in the early detection of future novel variants with pandemic potential. Therefore, this novel information on the antigenic diversification could facilitate GII.4 norovirus vaccine design.

Category: Journal Article
PubMed ID: #31551337 DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02202-19
PubMed Central ID: #PMC6759766
Includes FDA Authors from Scientific Area(s): Biologics
Entry Created: 2019-02-24 Entry Last Modified: 2019-11-24