Fitness selection of hyperfusogenic measles virus F proteins associated with neuropathogenic phenotypes

Satoshi Ikegame, Takao Hashiguchi, Chuan Tien Hung, Kristina Dobrindt, Kristen J. Brennand, Makoto Takeda, Benhur Lee

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Measles virus (MeV) is resurgent and caused >200,000 deaths in 2019. MeV infection can establish a chronic latent infection of the brain that can recrudesce months to years after recovery from the primary infection. Recrudescent MeV leads to fatal subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) or measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE) as the virus spreads across multiple brain regions. Most clinical isolates of SSPE/MIBE strains show mutations in the fusion (F) gene that result in a hyperfusogenic phenotype in vitro and allow for efficient spread in primary human neurons. Wild-type MeV receptor-binding protein is indispensable for manifesting these mutant F phenotypes, even though neurons lack canonical MeV receptors (CD150/SLAMF1 or nectin-4). How such hyperfusogenic F mutants are selected and whether they confer a fitness advantage for efficient neuronal spread is unresolved. To better understand the fitness landscape that allows for the selection of such hyperfusogenic F mutants, we conducted a screen of ≥3.1 × 105 MeV-F point mutants in their genomic context. We rescued and amplified our genomic MeV-F mutant libraries in BSR-T7 cells under conditions in which MeV-F-T461I (a known SSPE mutant), but not wild-type MeV, can spread. We recovered known SSPE mutants but also characterized at least 15 hyperfusogenic F mutations with an SSPE phenotype. Structural mapping of these mutants onto the prefusion MeV-F trimer confirm and extend our understanding of the F regulatory domains in MeV-F. Our list of hyperfusogenic F mutants is a valuable resource for future studies into MeV neuropathogenesis and the regulation of paramyxovirus F.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2026027118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - 4 May 2021


  • Fusion
  • Measles virus
  • Mutagenesis
  • Nipah virus
  • Viral encephalitis


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