Antigenic drift defines a new D4 subgenotype of measles virus.
- Clinical and Applied Virology
The measles virus hemagglutinin (MeV-H) protein is the main target of protective neutralizing antibodies. Using a panel of monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) that recognize known major antigenic sites in MeV-H, we identified a D4 genotype variant that escapes neutralization by MAbs targeting the neutralizing epitope (NE) antigenic site. By site-directed mutagenesis, L249P was identified as the critical mutation disrupting the NE in this genotype D4 variant. Forty-two available D4 genotype gene sequences were subsequently analyzed and divided into 2 groups according to the presence or absence of the L249P MeV-H mutation. Further analysis of the MeV-N gene sequences of these 2 groups confirmed that they represent clearly definable, sequence-divergent D4 subgenotypes, which we named subgenotypes D4.1 and D4.2. The subgenotype D4.1 MeVs were isolated predominantly in Kenya and Ethiopia, whereas the MAb-resistant subgenotype D4.2 MeVs were isolated predominantly in France and Great Britain, countries with higher vaccine coverage rates. Interestingly, D4.2 subgenotype viruses showed a trend toward diminished susceptibility to neutralization by human sera pooled from approximately 60 to 80 North American donors. Escape from MAb neutralization may be a powerful epidemiological surveillance tool to monitor the evolution of new MeV subgenotypes.IMPORTANCE Measles virus is a paradigmatic RNA virus, as the antigenic composition of the vaccination has not needed to be updated since its discovery. The vaccine confers protection by inducing neutralizing antibodies that interfere with the function of the hemagglutinin protein. Viral strains are indistinguishable serologically, although characteristic nucleotide sequences differentiate 24 genotypes. In this work, we describe a distant evolutionary branch within genotype D4. Designated subgenotype D4.2, this virus is distinguishable by neutralization with vaccine-induced monoclonal antibodies that target the neutralizing epitope (NE). The subgenotype D4.2 viruses have a higher predominance in countries with intermediary levels of vaccine coverage. Our studies demonstrate that subgenotype D4.2 lacks epitopes associated with half of the known antigenic sites, which significantly impacts our understanding of measles virus evolution.