Ebola virus (EBOV) is a zoonotic pathogen that poses a significant threat to public health, causing sporadic yet devastating outbreaks that have the potential to spread worldwide, as demonstrated during the 2013–2016 West African outbreak. Mouse models of infection are important tools for the development of therapeutics and vaccines. Exposure of immunocompetent mice to clinical isolates of EBOV is nonlethal; consequently, EBOV requires prior adaptation in mice to cause lethal disease. Until now, the only immunocompetent EBOV mouse model was based on the Mayinga variant, which was isolated in 1976. Here, we generated a novel mouse-adapted (MA)-EBOV based on the 2014 Makona isolate by inserting EBOV/Mayinga-MA mutations into the EBOV/Makona genome, followed by serial passaging of the rescued virus in suckling mice. The resulting EBOV/Makona-MA causes lethal disease in adult immunocompetent mice within 6 to 9 days and has a lethal dose (LD50) of 0.004 plaque forming units (PFU). Two additional mutations emerged after mouse-adaptation in the viral nucleoprotein (NP) and membrane-associated protein VP24. Using reverse genetics, we found the VP24 mutation to be critical for EBOV/Makona-MA virulence. EBOV/Makona-MA infected mice that presented with viremia, high viral burden in organs, increased release of pro-inflammatory cytokines/chemokines, and lymphopenia. Our mouse model will help advance pre-clinical development of countermeasures against contemporary EBOV variants.
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