Detection of bovine antibodies against a conserved capsid epitope as the basis of a novel universal serological test for foot-and-mouth disease

Diagnostic tests for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) include the detection of antibodies against either the viral non-structural proteins or the capsid. The detection of antibodies against the structural proteins (SP) of the capsid can be used to monitor seroconversion in both infected and vaccinated animals. However, SP tests need to be tailored to the individual FMD virus serotype and their sensitivity performances may be affected by antigenic variability within each serotype and mismatching between tests reagents. As a consequence, FMD Reference Laboratories are required to maintain multiple type-specific SP assays and reagents. A universal SP test would simplify frontline diagnostics and facilitate large-scale serological surveillance and post-vaccination monitoring. In this study, a highly conserved region in the N terminus of FMDV capsid protein VP2 (VP2N) was characterised using a panel of intertypic-reactive monoclonal antibodies. This revealed a universal epitope in VP2N which could be used as a peptide antigen to detect FMDV-specific antibodies against all types of the virus. A VP2-peptide ELISA (VP2-ELISA) was optimised using experimental and reference antisera from immunized, convalescent and negative animals (n=172). The VP2-ELISA is universal, simple and provided sensitive (99%) and specific (93%) detection of antibodies to all FMDV strains used in this study. We anticipate that this SP test could have utility for sero-surveillance during virus incursions in FMD-free countries and as an additional screening tool to assess FMD virus circulation in endemic countries.

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