- freely available
Viruses 2012, 4(10), 2097-2114; doi:10.3390/v4102097
Published: 12 October 2012
Abstract: The family Arenaviridae, genus Arenavirus, consists of two phylogenetically independent groups: Old World (OW) and New World (NW) complexes. The Lassa and Lujo viruses in the OW complex and the Guanarito, Junin, Machupo, Sabia, and Chapare viruses in the NW complex cause viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) in humans, leading to serious public health concerns. These viruses are also considered potential bioterrorism agents. Therefore, it is of great importance to detect these pathogens rapidly and specifically in order to minimize the risk and scale of arenavirus outbreaks. However, these arenaviruses are classified as BSL-4 pathogens, thus making it difficult to develop diagnostic techniques for these virus infections in institutes without BSL-4 facilities. To overcome these difficulties, antibody detection systems in the form of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and an indirect immunofluorescence assay were developed using recombinant nucleoproteins (rNPs) derived from these viruses. Furthermore, several antigen-detection assays were developed. For example, novel monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to the rNPs of Lassa and Junin viruses were generated. Sandwich antigen-capture (Ag-capture) ELISAs using these mAbs as capture antibodies were developed and confirmed to be sensitive and specific for detecting the respective arenavirus NPs. These rNP-based assays were proposed to be useful not only for an etiological diagnosis of VHFs, but also for seroepidemiological studies on VHFs. We recently developed arenavirus neutralization assays using vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)-based pseudotypes bearing arenavirus recombinant glycoproteins. The goal of this article is to review the recent advances in developing laboratory diagnostic assays based on recombinant viral proteins for the diagnosis of VHFs and epidemiological studies on the VHFs caused by arenaviruses.
The virus family Arenaviridae consists of only one genus, but most viruses within this genus can be divided into two different groups: the Old World arenaviruses and the New World arenaviruses (also known as the Tacaribe complex) [1,2]. The differences between the two groups have been established through the use of serological assays. Most of the arenaviruses cause persistent infection in rodents without any symptoms, and humans acquire a variety of diseases when zoonotically infected. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) is the only arenavirus to exhibit a worldwide distribution, and causes illnesses such as meningitis [3,4]. Congenital LCMV infections have also been reported [4,5]. Most importantly, viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) can be caused by several arenaviruses. Lassa fever, caused by the Lassa virus (LASV), an Old World arenavirus, is one of the most devastating VHFs in humans . Hemorrhaging and organ failure occur in a subset of patients infected with this virus, and it is associated with high mortality. Many cases of Lassa fever occur in Western Africa in countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria [7,8,9,10,11,12,13]. Tacaribe complex lineage B of the New World arenaviruses consists of the Junin virus (JUNV), Guanarito virus (GUNV), Sabia virus (SABV) and Machupo virus (MACV), the etiological agents of Argentine, Venezuelan, Brazilian, and Bolivian hemorrhagic fevers, respectively [14,15]. Although genetically distinct from one another, they appear to produce similar symptoms, accompanied by hemorrhaging in humans [14,15]. These pathogenic New World arenavirus species are closely associated with a specific rodent species .
Humans are usually infected with pathogenic arenaviruses through direct contact with tissue or blood, or after inhaling aerosolized particles from urine, feces, and saliva of infected rodents. After an incubation period of 1–3 weeks, infected individuals abruptly develop fever, retrosternal pain, sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, proteinuria, and mucosal bleeding. Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis. Because the symptoms of pathogenic arenavirus-related illness are varied and nonspecific, the clinical diagnosis is often difficult [14,16]. Human-to-human transmission may occur via mucosal or cutaneous contact, or through nosocomial contamination [14,16]. These viruses are also considered to be potential bioterrorism agents .
A number of arenavirus species have been recently discovered as a result of both rodent surveys and disease outbreaks [17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26]. A novel pathogenic New World arenavirus, Chapare virus (CHPV), has been isolated from a fatal case of VHF in Bolivia . In addition, five cases of VHF have been reported in South Africa, and a novel arenavirus, named Lujo virus, was isolated from a patient . The Lujo virus is most distantly related to the other Old World arenaviruses . To date, there is no information concerning the vertebrate host for the Chapare and Lujo viruses.
There is some evidence of endemicity of the Lassa virus in neighboring countries [27,28]. However, as the magnitude of international trade and travel is continuously increasing, and the perturbation of the environment (due either to human activity or natural ecological changes) may result in behavioral changes of reservoir rodents, highly pathogenic arenaviruses could be introduced to virus-free countries from endemic areas. In fact, more than twenty cases of Lassa fever have been reported outside of the endemic region in areas such as the USA, Canada, Europe, and Japan [29,30,31,32,33]. It is of great importance to detect these pathogens rapidly and specifically in order to minimize the risk and scale of outbreaks of VHFs caused by arenaviruses. However, these arenaviruses are classified as biosafety level (BSL)-4 pathogens, making it difficult to develop diagnostic techniques for these virus infections in laboratories without BSL-4 facilities. To overcome these difficulties, we have established recombinant viral nucleoproteins (rNPs)-based serological assays, such as IgG-enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA), and antigen (Ag)-capture ELISA for the diagnosis of VHFs caused by highly pathogenic arenaviruses. Furthermore, virus neutralization assays using pseudotype virus-bearing arenavirus GPs have been developed. In this review, we describe the usefulness of such recombinant protein-based diagnostic assays for diagnosing VHFs caused by arenaviruses.
2. Currently Used Diagnostic Techniques for VHFs
In outbreaks of VHFs, infections are confirmed by various laboratory diagnostic methods. Virus detection is performed by virus isolation, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and antigen-capture ELISA. It has been shown that monoclonal antibody panels against pathogenic arenaviruses are useful for detecting viral antigens on the virus-infected cells as well as for investigating of antigenic relationships of arenaviruses [34,35,36]. Detection of the virus genome is suitable for a rapid and sensitive diagnosis of VHF patients in the early stage of illness, and extensive reviews of such RT-PCR assays have been described [37,38]. More recently, progress in the RT-PCR method covering genetic variations of the hemorrhagic fever viruses (HFVs) [39,40] and a multiplexed oligonucleotide microarray for the differential diagnosis of VHFs have also been reported . On the other hand, antibodies against these viruses can be detected by the indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA), or IgG- and IgM-ELISA. An IFA detects the antibody in the serum, which is able to bind to the fixed monolayer of the virus-infected cells. Although the interpretation of immunofluorescence results requires experience, the assay has advantages over other methods, since each virus generates a characteristic fluorescence pattern that adds specificity to the assay compared to a simple ELISA readout. A serological diagnosis by the detection of specific IgM and IgG antibodies to the HFVs must be sensitive, specific and reliable, because a misdiagnosis can lead to panic in the general population. An IgM-specific ELISA is suitable for detecting recent infection, but the relevance of IgM testing for acute VHF depends on the virus and the duration of illness; specific IgM is not often present in the very early stage of illness, and patients who die of VHF often fail to seroconvert at all. An IgG-specific ELISA is efficacious, not only in the diagnosis of a large number of VHF cases, especially during convalescence, but also for epidemiological studies in the endemic regions. The detailed methods used for the IFA and IgG- and IgM-ELISAs for the diagnosis of VHF using authentic virus-antigens have been described in detail [42,43,44,45].
4. Antigen-Capture ELISA
For the diagnosis of many viral infections, PCR assays have been shown to have an excellent analytical sensitivity, but the established techniques are limited by their requirement for expensive equipment and technical expertise. Moreover, the high degree of genetic variability of the RNA viruses, including arenavirus and bunyavirus, poses difficulties in selecting primers for RT-PCR assays that can detect all strains of the virus. Since the sensitivity of the Ag-capture ELISA is comparable to that of RT-PCR for several virus-mediated infectious diseases, including Lassa fever and filovirus hemorrhagic fever [51,71,72,73], the Ag-capture ELISA is a sophisticated approach that can be used for the diagnosis of viral infections. Ag-capture ELISAs detecting viral NP in viremic sera have been widely applied to detect various viruses, since they are the most abundant viral antigens and have highly conserved amino acid sequences [50,51,54,71,72,74,75]. Polyclonal anti-sera or a mixture of MAbs present in the ascetic fluids from animals immunized for HFVs have been used for capture-antibodies in the Ag-capture ELISA [36,76,77,78,79]. MAbs recognizing conserved epitopes of the rNP are also used as capture antibodies since they have a high specificity for the antigens, and an identification of the epitopes of these MAbs is of crucial importance for the assessment of the specificity and cross-reactivity of the assay system [50,51,53,54,71,75]. In order to develop a sensitive diagnostic test for Lassa fever and AHF, rNPs of LASV and JUNV (see above) have been prepared, and newly established MAbs against them have been characterized and used for Ag-capture ELISAs [50,51]. The Ag-capture ELISA using MAb 4A5 has been confirmed to be useful in the detection of authentic LASV antigen in sera serially collected from hamsters infected with LASV . The sensitivity of the MAb 4A5-based Ag-capture ELISA was similar to that of conventional RT-PCR, suggesting that the Ag-capture ELISA can be efficiently used in the diagnosis of Lassa fever . Therefore, the MAb 4A5- based Ag-capture ELISA is considered to be useful in the diagnosis of Lassa fever. Also, by using MAbs raised against the rNP of JUNV, Ag-capture ELISAs specific for JUNV and broadly reactive to human pathogenic New World arenaviruses have been developed . The Ag-capture ELISA using MAb E4-2 and C11-12 detected the Ags of all of the pathogenic New World arenaviruses tested, including JUNV. On the other hand, the Ag-capture ELISA using MAb C6-9 detects only the JUNV Ag. Considering that the symptoms of JUNV infection in humans are indistinguishable from those due to other pathogenic New World arenaviruses, the Ag capture ELISA using MAb C6-9 may be a useful diagnostic tool, especially for AHF .
5. Neutralization Assays Based on VSV Pseudotypes
The virus neutralization assay is accepted as the “gold standard” serodiagnostic assay to quantify the antibody response to infection and vaccination of a wide variety of viruses associated with human diseases [80,81,82,83,84,85,86]. The presence of neutralizing antibodies is a reliable indicator of protective immunity against VHF [87,88,89]. The most direct method for detection of neutralizing antibodies against HFVs is by plaque reduction neutralization tests using infectious viruses. However, because of the high pathogenicity of HFVs to humans and the strict regulation of select agents, only a limited number of laboratories are able to perform such neutralization tests. For many HFVs, replication-incompetent pseudotyped virus particles bearing viral envelope protein (GP) have been shown to mimic the respective HFV infections, thus, neutralization assays using the pseudotypes may be advantageous in some laboratory settings for the detection of antibodies to HFVs without the need for heightened biocontainment requirements.
The VSV-based vector has already been used to generate replication-competent recombinant VSVs to study of the role of GPs of various viruses [90,91,92]. Recent advances in producing pseudotype virus particles have enabled the investigation of the virus cell entry, viral tropism, and effect of entry inhibitors, as well as measurement of the neutralization titers, by using human immunodeficiency virus-, feline immunodeficiency virus-, murine leukemia virus-, or VSV-based vectors [86,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100,101,102,103]. Pseudotypes based on VSV have advantages compared with other pseudotypes based on retroviruses for the following reasons. First, the pseudotype virus titer obtained with the VSV system is generally higher than that of the pseudotyped retrovirus system . Second, the infection of target cells with a VSV pseudotype can be readily detected as green fluorescent protein (GFP)-positive cells at 7–16 h post-infection because of the high level of GFP expression in the VSV system [104,105]. In contrast, the time required for infection in the pseudotyped retrovirus system is 48 h [106,107], which is similar to the time required for infectious viruses to replicate to a level that results in plaque-forming or cytopathic effects in infected cells. A high-throughput assay for determining neutralizing antibody titers using VSV pseudotypes expressing secreted alkaline phosphatase [108,109] or luciferase (Figure 3) has also been developed.
We have recently developed a VSV-based pseudotype bearing Lassa virus GP (VSV-LAS-GP) for the detection of neutralizing antibodies in the sera obtained from a Lassa fever patient. An example of the LASV neutralization assay using the VSV pseudotype is shown (Figure 4). In the presence of serum from Lassa fever patients, the number of GFP-positive cells (infectivity of VSV-LAS-GP) is significantly reduced compared with the number in the absence of the patient’s serum (Figure 4A). The control VSV pseudotype bearing VSV GP (VSV-VSV-G) is not neutralized by any sera. When the cut‑off serum dilution is set at 50% inhibition of infectivity compared with the infectivity in the absence of the test serum, the neutralization titer of this patient’s serum for VSV-LAS-GP is calculated to be 75 (Figure 4B). Likewise, a VSV-based pseudotype bearing the Junin virus GP has been developed for the detection of neutralizing antibodies from AHF patients’ sera. The accuracy of the results of VSV-based neutralization assays has been confirmed by comparison with the results of the neutralization assay using live Junin virus .
The Lujo virus is a new member of the hemorrhagic fever-associated arenavirus family from Zambia and southern Africa, and the virus is classified as a BSL-4 pathogen . The genome sequence analysis of the Lujo virus suggests that the virus is genetically distinct from previously characterized arenaviruses. In order to study the infectivity of this newly identified arenavirus, we have recently developed a luciferase-expressing VSV pseudotype bearing Lujo virus GPC (VSV-Lujo-GP). As shown in Figure 3, infection with VSV-Lujo-GPC is specifically neutralized by rabbit anti-Lujo GPC serum. Thus, the VSV-Lujo-GP may be a useful tool not only for determining the neutralizing antibody titer within the serum, but also for exploring yet-to-be-defined cellular receptor(s) for Lujo virus infection or for screening inhibitors of the Lujo virus GP-mediated cell entry.
Hemorrhagic fever outbreaks caused by pathogenic arenaviruses result in high fatality rates. A rapid and accurate diagnosis is a critical first step in any outbreak. Serologic diagnostic methods for VHFs most often employ an ELISA, IFA, and/or virus neutralization assay. Diagnostic methods using recombinant viral proteins have been developed and their utilities for diagnosing of VHF have been reviewed. IgG- and IgM- ELISAs and IFAs using rNPs as antigens are useful for the detection of antibodies induced in the patients’ sera. These methods are also useful for seroepidemiological surveys for HFVs. Ag-capture ELISAs using MAbs to the arenavirus rNPs are specific for the virus species or can be broadly reactive for New World arenaviruses, depending on the MAb used. Furthermore, the VSV-based pseudotype system provides a safe and rapid tool for measuring virus neutralizing antibody titers, as well as a model to analyze the entry of the respective arenavirus in susceptible cells without using live arenaviruses. Recent discoveries of novel arenavirus species [17,26,110] and their potential to evolve predominantly via host switching, rather than with their hosts [110,111], suggest that an unknown pathogenic arenavirus may emerge in the future, and that the diagnostic methods for VHF caused by arenaviruses should thus be further developed and improved.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
We thank the staff of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, Department of Virology 1, NIID, I. Kurane, T. Mizutani, M. Niikura, A. Maeda, T. Ikegami, and M. Ogata, for their contributions to these studies on the development of diagnostic methods. We also thank M. Whitt for providing the VSV pseudotype system. This work was supported in part by a grant-in aid from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan (H22-Shinkou-Ippan-006 and H24-Shinkou-Ippan-013).
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