Maturation of West Nile virus modulates sensitivity to antibody-mediated neutralization

Steevenson Nelson, Christiane A. Jost, Qinq Xu, Jessica Ess, Julie E. Martin, Theodore Oliphant, Stephen S. Whitehead, Anna P. Durbin, Barney S. Graham, Michael S. Diamond, Theodore C. Pierson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


West Nile virions incorporate 180 envelope (E) proteins that orchestrate the process of virus entry and are the primary target of neutralizing antibodies. The E proteins of newly synthesized West Nile virus (WNV) are organized into trimeric spikes composed of pre-membrane (prM) and E protein heterodimers. During egress, immature virions undergo a proteasemediated cleavage of prM that results in a reorganization of E protein into the pseudo-icosahedral arrangement characteristic of mature virions. While cleavage of prM is a required step in the virus life cycle, complete maturation is not required for infectivity and infectious virions may be heterogeneous with respect to the extent of prM cleavage. In this study, we demonstrate that virion maturation impacts the sensitivity of WNV to antibody-mediated neutralization. Complete maturation results in a significant reduction in sensitivity to neutralization by antibodies specific for poorly accessible epitopes that comprise a major component of the human antibody response following WNV infection or vaccination. This reduction in neutralization sensitivity reflects a decrease in the accessibility of epitopes on virions to levels that fall below a threshold required for neutralization. Thus, in addition to a role in facilitating viral entry, changes in E protein arrangement associated with maturation modulate neutralization sensitivity and introduce an additional layer of complexity into humoral immunity against WNV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1000060
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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