The envelope glycoprotein B of human cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a major target of the neutralizing antibody response against this virus, and hence has importance as a potential subunit vaccine. PCR was utilized to amplify DNA encoding the dominant antigenic determinant on this molecule, AD-1 (codons 552 to 635), and DNA sequencing was carried out in order to compare nucleotide variation in AD-1 between clinical isolates of CMV and the laboratory strain AD169. Wild-type CMV strains isolated from AIDS patients were not only more likely to possess nucleotide substitutions (19/24 compared to 5/25, < 0·0001) than those from renal transplant recipients, but they also exhibited a greater degree of nucleotide sequence divergence (6·94 versus 0·82 substitutions/1000 bp, < 0·0001; 96·0 to 100% versus 99·4 to 100% similarity). Increased sequence variation in the AIDS patients did not correlate with absolute peripheral blood CD4 T cell level ( = 0·33, > 0·1). Only two strains from AIDS patients and one strain from the renal transplant recipients possessed nucleic acid substitutions that resulted in codon changes, indicating that AD-1 is relatively well conserved amongst clinical isolates of CMV. The demonstration of strains with codon changes within neutralizing epitopes, however, highlights the importance of taking into consideration the presence of these strains within the wildtype virus population when preparing subunit vaccines.


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