As the only widely used live lentiviral vaccine, the equine infectious anima virus (EIAV) attenuated vaccine was developed by in vitro passaging of a virulent strain for 121 generations. In our previous study, we observed that the attenuated vaccine was gradually selected under increased environmental pressure at the population level (termed a quasispecies). To further elucidate the potential correlation between viral quasispecies evolution and pathogenesis, a systematic study was performed by sequencing env
using several methods. Some key mutations were identified within Env, and we observed that increased percentages of these mutations were accompanied by an increased passage number and attenuated virulence. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that env
mutations related to the loss of virulence might have occurred evolutionarily. Among these mutations, deletion of amino acid 236 in the V4 region of Env resulted in the loss of one N-glycosylation site that was crucial for virulence. Notably, the 236-deleted sequence represented a “vaccine-specific” mutation that was also found in wild EIAVLN40
strains based on single genome amplification (SGA) analysis. Therefore, our results suggest that the EIAV attenuated vaccine may originate from a branch of quasispecies of EIAVLN40
. Generally, the presented results may increase our understanding of the attenuation mechanism of the EIAV vaccine and provide more information about the evolution of other lentiviruses.
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