Arenaviruses are emerging pathogens that are carried by rodents and occasionally transmitted to man with lethal consequences. Our studies focus on Lassa fever virus due to its virulence for human beings. Lassa virus accounts for 300,000 annual infections and thousands deaths in West Africa. The sizeable disease burden and the possibility that LAS virus can be used as a biological warfare agent make a strong case for effective vaccine development. In contrast to the well-studied model of arenavirus pathogenesis in the mouse, the virulence of Lassa fever in man, guinea pigs and non-human primates is directly related to viremia, and less related to immune-mediated pathology. Guinea pigs are a potentially useful model for elucidating the pathogenesis of Lassa virus infection and for vaccine and treatment developments. A close relative of Lassa fever virus, Mopeia virus, is not lethal in guinea pigs and monkeys, and can protect them from Lassa virus challenge. To determine the genetic basis of Lassa virus virulence we made interspecies virus recombinants between Lassa (LAS) and Mopeia (MOP) viruses. We will test the hypothesis that the Lassa L RNA segment is associated with fatal acute disease in experimental animals and that the MOP/LAS reassortant virus consisting of the L RNA of Mopeia and the S RNA of Lassa will be avirulent and will confer effective protection from a lethal Lassa virus challenge.
Our specific aims will be to: 1) compare the virulence of the reassortant MOP/LAS and LAS/MOP viruses with the virulence of the two parental, LAS and MOP viruses; 2) test the ability of the MOP/LAS reassortant to protect guinea pigs from lethal challenge with LAS virus. Virulence and protection will be measured in terms of survival, viremia, viral load in tissues, disturbances in clinical chemistry and hematology. Pro-inflammatory cyto/chemokines, TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, IL-6, and IL-8, will be monitored because clinical and experimental data showed involvement of these factors in LHF pathogenesis. Our long-range goal is to understand LAS virus pathogenesis and to develop effective treatments and vaccines.
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