Linked mutations in the ebola virus polymerase are associated with organ specific phenotypes

Xiaofeng Dong, Julia Tree, Logan Banadyga, Shihua He, Wenjun Zhu, Tom Tipton, Jade Gouriet, Xiangguo Qiu, Michael J. Elmore, Yper Hall, Miles Carroll*, Julian A. Hiscox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Ebola virus (EBOV) causes a severe infection called Ebola virus disease (EVD). The pathogenesis of EBOV infection is complex, and outcome has been associated with a variety of immunological and cellular factors. Disease can result from several mechanisms, including direct organ and endothelial cell damage as a result of viral replication. During the2013 to 2016 Western Africa EBOV outbreak, several mutants emerged, with changes in the genes of nucleoprotein (NP), glycoprotein (GP), and the large (L) protein. Reverse genetic analysis has been used to investigate whether these mutations played any role in pathogenesis with mixed results depending on the experimental system used. Previous studies investigated the impact of three single nonsynonymous mutations (GP-A82V, NP-R111C, and L-D759G) on the fatality rate of mouse and ferret models and suggested that the L-D759G mutation decreased the virulence of EBOV. In this study, the effect of these three mutations was further evaluated by deep sequencing to determine viral population genetics and the host response in longitudinal samples of blood, liver, kidney, spleen, and lung tissues taken from the previous ferret model. The data indicated that the mutations were maintained in the different tissues, but the frequency of minor genomic mutations were different. In addition, compared to wild-Type virus, the recombinant mutants had different within host effects, where the D759G (and accompanying Q986H) substitution in the L protein resulted in an upregulation of the immune response in the kidney, liver, spleen, and lungs. Together these studies provide insights into the biology of EBOV mutants both between and within hosts. IMPORTANCE Ebola virus infection can have dramatic effects on the human body which manifest in Ebola virus disease. The outcome of infection is either survival or death and in the former group with the potential of longer-Term health consequences and persistent infection. Disease severity is undoubtedly associated with the host response, often with overt inflammatory responses correlated with poorer outcomes. The scale of the2013 to 2016 Western African Ebola virus outbreak revealed new aspects of viral biology. This included the emergence of mutants with potentially altered virulence. Biobanked tissue from ferret models of EBOV infected with different mutants that emerged in the Western Africa outbreak was used to investigate the effect of EBOV genomic variation in different tissues. Overall, the work provided insights into the population genetics of EBOV and showed that different organs in an animal model can respond differently to variants of EBOV.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

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  • Ebola virus
  • adaptive mutations
  • bioinformatics


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