Simian rhesus rotavirus (RRV) is the only identified heterologous (non-lapine) rotavirus strain capable of productive replication at a high inoculum dose of virus (>10 p.f.u.) in rabbits. To evaluate whether lower doses of RRV would productively infect rabbits and to obtain an estimate of the 50% infectious dose, rotavirus antibody-free rabbits were inoculated orally with RRV at inoculum doses of 10, 10 or 10 p.f.u. Based on faecal virus antigen or infectious virus shedding, RRV replication was observed with inoculum doses of 10 and 10 p.f.u., but not 10 p.f.u. Horizontal transmission of RRV to one of three mock-inoculated rabbits occurred 4–5 days after onset of virus antigen shedding in RRV-infected rabbits. Rabbits infected at 10 and 10, but not 10, p.f.u. of RRV developed rotavirus-specific immune responses and were completely (100%) protected from lapine ALA rotavirus challenge. These data confirm that RRV can replicate productively and spread horizontally in rabbits. In attempts to elucidate the genetic basis of the unusual replication efficacy of RRV in rabbits, the sequence of the gene encoding the lapine non-structural protein NSP1 was determined. Sequence analysis of the NSP1 of three lapine rotaviruses revealed a high degree of amino acid identity (85–88%) with RRV. Since RRV and lapine strains also share similar VP7s (96–97%) and VP4s (69–70%), RRV might replicate efficiently in rabbits because of the high relatedness of these three gene products, each implicated in host range restriction.


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