A neutralization escape variant of Murray Valley encephalitis virus (MVE), of low neuroinvasiveness in mice and with low haemagglutination activity, had a reduced rate of replication in cultured cells during the early phase of infection compared to wild-type MVE. The variant was internalized by Vero cells at a similar rate to wild-type MVE at pH 7·4, but had reduced pH-dependent membrane fusion activity. In fusion-from-within experiments in infected mosquito (C6/36) cells, the variant had a lowered pH threshold for induction of fusion, which occurred at a reduced rate and to a lesser extent than for wild-type virus. Fusion was inhibited by monoclonal antibodies specific for envelope protein epitopes E-5 and E-8, which were implicated as determinants of fusion. These observations are discussed in relation to the regulation of MVE replication by fusion of the viral envelope with endosome membranes and, in turn, how rates of replication may affect neuroinvasion.


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