Real time RT-PCR assays for detection and typing of African horse sickness virus

Although African horse sickness (AHS) can cause up to 95% mortality in horses, naïve animals can be protected by vaccination against the homologous AHSV serotype. Genome segment 2 (Seg-2) encodes outer capsid protein VP2, the most variable of the AHSV proteins. VP2 is also a primary target for AHSV specific neutralising antibodies, and consequently determines the identity of the nine AHSV serotypes. In contrast VP1 (the viral polymerase) and VP3 (the sub-core shell protein), encoded by Seg-1 and Seg-3 respectively, are highly conserved, representing virus species/orbivirus-serogroup-specific antigens. We report development and evaluation of real-time RT-PCR assays targeting AHSV Seg-1 or Seg-3, that can detect any AHSV type (virus species/serogroup-specific assays), as well as type-specific assays targeting Seg-2 of the nine AHSV serotypes. These assays were evaluated using isolates of different AHSV serotypes and other closely related orbiviruses, from the ‘Orbivirus Reference Collection’ (ORC) at The Pirbright Institute. The assays were shown to be AHSV virus-species-specific, or type-specific (as designed) and can be used for rapid, sensitive and reliable detection and identification (typing) of AHSV RNA in infected blood, tissue samples, homogenised Culicoides, or tissue culture supernatant. None of the assays amplified cDNAs from closely related heterologous orbiviruses, or from uninfected host animals or cell cultures.

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