Chikungunya Virus Fidelity Variants Exhibit Differential Attenuation and Population Diversity in Cell Culture and Adult Mice

Kasen K. Riemersma, Cody Steiner, Anil Singapuri, Lark L Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a reemerging global health threat that produces debilitating arthritis in people. Like other RNA viruses with high mutation rates, CHIKV produces populations of genetically diverse genomes within a host. While several known CHIKV mutations influence disease severity in vertebrates and transmission by mosquitoes, the role of intrahost diversity in chikungunya arthritic disease has not been studied. In this study, high- and low-fidelity CHIKV variants, previously characterized by altered in vitro population mutation frequencies, were used to evaluate how intrahost diversity influences clinical disease, CHIKV replication, and antibody neutralization in immunocompetent adult mice inoculated in the rear footpads. Both high- and low-fidelity mutations were hypothesized to attenuate CHIKV arthritic disease, replication, and neutralizing antibody levels compared to wild-type (WT) CHIKV. Unexpectedly, high-fidelity mutants elicited more severe arthritic disease than the WT despite comparable CHIKV replication, whereas a low-fidelity mutant produced attenuated disease and replication. Serum antibody developed against both high- and low-fidelity CHIKV exhibited reduced neutralization of WT CHIKV. Using next-generation sequencing (NGS), the high-fidelity mutations were demonstrated to be genetically stable but produced more genetically diverse populations than WT CHIKV in mice. This enhanced diversification was subsequently reproduced after serial in vitro passage. The NGS results contrast with previously reported population diversities for fidelity variants, which focused mainly on part of the E1 gene, and highlight the need for direct measurements of mutation rates to clarify CHIKV fidelity phenotypes.IMPORTANCE CHIKV is a reemerging global health threat that elicits debilitating arthritis in humans. There are currently no commercially available CHIKV vaccines. Like other RNA viruses, CHIKV has a high mutation rate and is capable of rapid intrahost diversification during an infection. In other RNA viruses, virus population diversity associates with disease progression; however, potential impacts of intrahost viral diversity on CHIKV arthritic disease have not been studied. Using previously characterized CHIKV fidelity variants, we addressed whether CHIKV population diversity influences the severity of arthritis and host antibody response in an arthritic mouse model. Our findings show that CHIKV populations with greater genetic diversity can cause more severe disease and stimulate antibody responses with reduced neutralization of low-diversity virus populations in vitro The discordant high-fidelity phenotypes in this study highlight the complexity of inferring replication fidelity indirectly from population diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • arbovirus
  • cell culture
  • chikungunya virus
  • deep sequencing
  • fidelity variant
  • genetic diversity
  • intrahost virus evolution
  • mouse
  • RNA virus
  • sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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