Persistent infection of african buffalo (Syncerus caffer) with foot-and-mouth disease virus: Limited viral evolution and no evidence of antibody neutralization escape

Martí Cortey, Luca Ferretti, Eva Pérez-Martín, Fuquan Zhang, Lin Mari de Klerk-Lorist, Katherine Scott, Graham Freimanis, Julian Seago, Paolo Ribeca, Louis van Schalkwyk, Nicholas D. Juleff, Francois F. Maree, Bryan Charleston

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Copyright © 2019 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved. African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) are the principal “carrier” hosts of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). Currently, the epithelia and lymphoid germinal centers of the oropharynx have been identified as sites for FMDV persistence. We carried out studies in FMDV SAT1 persistently infected buffaloes to characterize the diversity of viruses in oropharyngeal epithelia, germinal centers, probang samples (oropharyngeal scrapings), and tonsil swabs to determine if sufficient virus variation is generated during persistence for immune escape. Most sequencing reads of the VP1 coding region of the SAT1 virus inoculum clustered around 2 subpopulations differing by 22 single-nucleotide variants of intermediate frequency. Similarly, most sequences from oropharynx tissue clustered into two subpopulations, albeit with different proportions, depending on the day postinfection (dpi). There was a significant difference between the populations of viruses in the inoculum and in lymphoid tissue taken at 35 dpi. Thereafter, until 400 dpi, no significant variation was detected in the viral populations in samples from individual animals, germinal centers, and epithelial tissues. Deep sequencing of virus from probang or tonsil swab samples harvested prior to postmortem showed less within-sample variability of VP1 than that of tissue sample sequences analyzed at the same time. Importantly, there was no significant difference in the ability of sera collected between 14 and 400 dpi to neutralize the inoculum or viruses isolated at later time points in the study from the same animal. Therefore, based on this study, there is no evidence of escape from antibody neutralization contributing to FMDV persistent infection in African buffalo. IMPORTANCE Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) is a highly contagious virus of cloven-hoofed animals and is recognized as the most important constraint to international trade in animals and animal products. African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) are efficient carriers of FMDV, and it has been proposed that new virus variants are produced in buffalo during the prolonged carriage after acute infection, which may spread to cause disease in livestock populations. Here, we show that despite an accumulation of low-frequency sequence variants over time, there is no evidence of significant antigenic variation leading to immune escape. Therefore, carrier buffalo are unlikely to be a major source of new virus variants.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00563-19
JournalJournal of Virology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • African buffalo
  • Evolution
  • FMDV
  • Foot-and-mouth disease virus
  • Immune escape
  • Persistence


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