Variation around the dominant viral genome sequence contributes to viral load and outcome in patients with Ebola virus disease

Xiaofeng Dong, Jordana Munoz-Basagoiti, Natasha Y. Rickett, Georgios Pollakis, William A. Paxton, Stephan Günther, Romy Kerber, Lisa F.P. Ng, Michael J. Elmore, N'Faly Magassouba, Miles Carroll, David A. Matthews, Julian A. Hiscox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Viral load is a major contributor to outcome in patients with Ebola virus disease (EVD), with high values leading to a fatal outcome. Evidence from the 2013-2016 Ebola virus (EBOV) outbreak indicated that different genotypes of the virus can have different phenotypes in patients. Additionally, due to the error-prone nature of viral RNA synthesis in an individual patient, the EBOV genome exists around a dominant viral genome sequence. The minor variants within a patient may contribute to the overall phenotype in terms of viral protein function. To investigate the effects of these minor variants, blood samples from patients with acute EVD were deeply sequenced. Results: We examine the minor variant frequency between patients with acute EVD who survived infection with those who died. Non-synonymous differences in viral proteins were identified that have implications for viral protein function. The greatest frequency of substitution was identified at three codon sites in the L gene - which encodes the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). Recapitulating this in an assay for virus replication, these substitutions result in aberrant viral RNA synthesis and correlate with patient outcome. Conclusions: Together, these findings support the notion that in patients who survived EVD, in some cases, the genetic variability of the virus resulted in deleterious mutations that affected viral protein function, leading to reduced viral load. Such mutations may also lead to persistent strains of the virus and be associated with recrudescent infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article number238
JournalGenome Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sep 2020

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© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Ebola virus
  • Ebola virus disease
  • Evolution
  • Patient outcome
  • Virus genetics


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