Divergent Evolutionary Pathways of Myxoma Virus in Australia: Virulence Phenotypes in Susceptible and Partially Resistant Rabbits Indicate Possible Selection for Transmissibility

Peter J. Kerr, Isabella M. Cattadori, Derek Sim, June Liu, Edward C. Holmes, Andrew F. Read

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

To characterize the ongoing evolution of myxoma virus in Australian rabbits, we used experimental infections of laboratory rabbits to determine the virulence and disease phenotypes of recent virus isolates. The viruses, collected between 2012 and 2015, fell into three lineages, one of which, lineage c, experienced a punctuated increase in evolutionary rate. All viruses were capable of causing acute death with aspects of neutropenic septicemia, characterized by minimal signs of myxomatosis, the occurrence of pulmonary edema and bacteria invasions throughout internal organs, but with no inflammatory response. For the viruses of highest virulence all rabbits usually died at this point. In more attenuated viruses, some rabbits died acutely, while others developed an amyxomatous phenotype. Rabbits that survived for longer periods developed greatly swollen cutaneous tissues with very high virus titers. This was particularly true of lineage c viruses. Unexpectedly, we identified a line of laboratory rabbits with some innate resistance to myxomatosis and used these in direct comparisons with the fully susceptible rabbit line. Importantly, the same disease phenotype occurred in both susceptible and resistant rabbits, although virulence was shifted toward more attenuated grades in resistant animals. We propose that selection against inflammation at cutaneous sites prolongs virus replication and enhances transmission, leading to the amyxomatous phenotype. In some virus backgrounds this creates an immunosuppressive state that predisposes to high virulence and acute death. The alterations in disease pathogenesis, particularly the overwhelming bacterial invasions that characterize the modern viruses, suggest that their virulence grades are not directly comparable with earlier studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Volume96
Issue number20
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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