The Pirbright Institute publication directory contains details of selected publications written by our researchers.

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Peacock T P, Harvey W T, Sadeyen J R, Reeve R, Iqbal M (2018)

The molecular basis of antigenic variation among A(H9N2) avian influenza viruses

Emerging Microbes and Infections 7 (1), 176


Avian influenza A(H9N2) viruses are an increasing threat to global poultry production and, through zoonotic infection, to human health where they are considered viruses with pandemic potential. Vaccination of poultry is a key element of disease control in endemic countries, but vaccine effectiveness is persistently challenged by the emergence of antigenic variants. Here we employed a combination of techniques to investigate the genetic basis of H9N2 antigenic variability and evaluate the role of different molecular mechanisms of immune escape. We systematically tested the influence of published H9N2 monoclonal antibody escape mutants on chicken antisera binding, determining that many have no significant effect. Substitutions introducing additional glycosylation sites were a notable exception, though these are relatively rare among circulating viruses. To identify substitutions responsible for antigenic variation in circulating viruses, we performed an integrated meta-analysis of all published H9 haemagglutinin sequences and antigenic data. We validated this statistical analysis experimentally and allocated several new residues to H9N2 antigenic sites, providing molecular markers that will help explain vaccine breakdown in the field and inform vaccine selection decisions. We find evidence for the importance of alternative mechanisms of immune escape, beyond simple modulation of epitope structure, with substitutions increasing glycosylation or receptor-binding avidity, exhibiting the largest impacts on chicken antisera binding. Of these, meta-analysis indicates avidity regulation to be more relevant to the evolution of circulating viruses, suggesting that a specific focus on avidity regulation is required to fully understand the molecular basis of immune escape by influenza, and potentially other viruses.

Bavananthasivam J, Read L, Astill J, Yitbarek A, Alkie T N, Abdul-Careem M F, Wootton S K, Behboudi S, Sharif S (2018)

The effects of in ovo administration of encapsulated Toll-like receptor 21 ligand as an adjuvant with Marek's disease vaccine

Scientific Reports 8 (1), 16370


Marek's Disease Virus (MDV) is the causative agent of a lymphoproliferative disease, Marek's disease (MD) in chickens. MD is only controlled by mass vaccination; however, immunity induced by MD vaccines is unable to prevent MDV replication and transmission. The herpesvirus of turkey (HVT) vaccine is one of the most widely used MD vaccines in poultry industry. Vaccines can be adjuvanted with Toll-like receptor ligands (TLR-Ls) to enhance their efficacy. In this study, we examined whether combining TLR-Ls with HVT can boost host immunity against MD and improve its efficacy. Results demonstrated that HVT alone or HVT combined with encapsulated CpG-ODN partially protected chickens from tumor incidence and reduced virus replication compared to the control group. However, encapsulated CpG-ODN only moderately, but not significantly, improved HVT efficacy and reduced tumor incidence from 53% to 33%. Further investigation of cytokine gene profiles in spleen and bursa of Fabricius revealed an inverse association between interleukin (IL)-10 and IL-18 expression and protection conferred by different treatments. In addition, the results of this study raise the possibility that interferon (IFN)-beta and IFN-gamma induced by the treatments may exert anti-viral responses against MDV replication in the bursa of Fabricius at early stage of MDV infection in chickens.

Armson B, Walsh C, Morant N, Fowler V L, Knowles N J, Clark D (2018)

The development of two field-ready reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification assays for the rapid detection of Seneca Valley virus 1

Transboundary and Emerging Diseases ,
Publisher’s version:


Seneca Valley virus 1 (SVV-1) has been associated with vesicular disease in swine, with clinical signs indistinguishable from those of other notifiable vesicular diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. Rapid and accurate detection of SVV-1 is central to confirm the disease causing agent, and to initiate the implementation of control processes. The development of rapid, cost-effective diagnostic assays that can be used at the point of sample collection has been identified as a gap in preparedness for the control of SVV-1. This study describes the development and bench validation of two reverse transcription loop-mediated amplification (RT-LAMP) assays targeting the 5'-untranslated region (5'-UTR) and the VP3-1 region for the detection of SVV-1 that may be performed at the point of sample collection. Both assays were able to demonstrate amplification of all neat samples diluted 1/100 in negative pig epithelium tissue suspension within 8 minutes, when RNA was extracted prior to the RT-LAMP assay, and no amplification was observed for the other viruses tested. Simple sample preparation methods using lyophilized reagents were investigated, to negate the requirement for RNA extraction. Only a small delay in the time to amplification was observed for these lyophilized reagents, with a time from sample receipt to amplification achieved within 12 minutes. Although diagnostic validation is recommended, these RT-LAMP assays are highly sensitive and specific, with the potential to be a useful tool in the rapid diagnosis of SVV-1 in the field.

Kumar N, Kulkarni D D, Lee B, Kaushik R, Bhatia S, Sood R, Pateriya A K, Bhat S, Singh V P (2018)

Evolution of codon usage bias in henipaviruses is governed by natural selection and is host-specific

Viruses 10 (11), 604


Hendra virus (HeV) and Nipah virus (NiV) are among a group of emerging bat-borne paramyxoviruses that have crossed their species-barrier several times by infecting several hosts with a high fatality rate in human beings. Despite the fatal nature of their infection, a comprehensive study to explore their evolution and adaptation in different hosts is lacking. A study of codon usage patterns in henipaviruses may provide some fruitful insight into their evolutionary processes of synonymous codon usage and host-adapted evolution. Here, we performed a systematic evolutionary and codon usage bias analysis of henipaviruses. We found a low codon usage bias in the coding sequences of henipaviruses and that natural selection, mutation pressure, and nucleotide compositions shapes the codon usage patterns of henipaviruses, with natural selection being more important than the others. Also, henipaviruses showed the highest level of adaptation to bats of the genus Pteropus in the codon adaptation index (CAI), relative to the codon de-optimization index (RCDI), and similarity index (SiD) analyses. Furthermore, a comparison to recently identified henipa-like viruses indicated a high tRNA adaptation index of henipaviruses for human beings, mainly due to F, G and L proteins. Consequently, the study concedes the substantial emergence of henipaviruses in human beings, particularly when paired with frequent exposure to direct/indirect bat excretions.

Bickerton E, Dowgier G, Britton P (2018)

Recombinant infectious bronchitis viruses expressing heterologous S1 subunits: potential for a new generation of vaccines that replicate in Vero cells

Journal of General Virology early view,


The spike glycoprotein (S) of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) comprises two subunits, S1 and S2. We have previously demonstrated that the S2 subunit of the avirulent Beau-R strain is responsible for its extended cellular tropism for Vero cells. Two recombinant infectious bronchitis viruses (rIBVs) have been generated; the immunogenic S1 subunit is derived from the IBV vaccine strain, H120, or the virulent field strain, QX, within the genetic background of Beau-R. The rIBVs BeauR-H120(S1) and BeauR-QX(S1) are capable of replicating in primary chicken kidney cell cultures and in Vero cells. These results demonstrate that rIBVs are able to express S1 subunits from genetically diverse strains of IBV, which will enable the rational design of a future generation of IBV vaccines that may be grown in Vero cells.

Pastor-Fernandez I, Kim S, Billington K, Bumstead J, Marugan-Hernandez V, Kuster T, Ferguson D J P, Vervelde L, Blake D P, Tomley F M (2018)

Development of cross-protective Eimeria-vectored vaccines based on apical membrane antigens

International Journal for Parasitology 48 (7), 505-518


Recently, the availability of protocols supporting genetic complementation of Eimeria has raised the prospect of generating transgenic parasite lines which can function as vaccine vectors, expressing and delivering heterologous proteins. Complementation with sequences encoding immunoprotective antigens from other Eimeria spp. offers an opportunity to reduce the complexity of species/strains in anticoccidial vaccines. Herein, we characterise and evaluate EtAMA1 and EtAMA2, two members of the apical membrane antigen (AMA) family of parasite surface proteins from Eimeria tenella. Both proteins are stage-regulated, and the sporozoite-specific EtAMA1 is effective at inducing partial protection against homologous challenge with E. tenella when used as a recombinant protein vaccine, whereas the merozoite-specific EtAMA2 is not. In order to test the ability of transgenic parasites to confer heterologous protection, E. tenella parasites were complemented with EmAMA1, the sporozoite-specific ortho-logue of EtAMA1 from E. maxima, coupled with different delivery signals to modify its trafficking and improve antigen exposure to the host immune system. Vaccination of chickens using these transgenic parasites conferred partial protection against E. maxima challenge, with levels of efficacy comparable to those obtained using recombinant protein or DNA vaccines. In the present work we provide evidence for the first known time of the ability of transgenic Eimeria to induce cross protection against different Eimeria spp. Genetically complemented Eimeria provide a powerful tool to streamline the complex multi-valent anticoccidial vaccine formulations that are currently available in the market by generating parasite lines expressing vaccine targets from multiple eimerian species.

Giotis E S, Scott A, Rothwell L, Hu T J, Talbot R, Todd D, Burt D W, Glass E J, Kaiser P (2018)

Chicken anaemia virus evades host immune responses in transformed lymphocytes

Journal of General Virology 99 (3), 321-327


Chicken anaemia virus (CAV) is a lymphotropic virus that causes anaemia and immunosuppression in chickens. Previously, we proposed that CAV evades host antiviral responses in vivo by disrupting T-cell signalling, but the precise cellular targets and modes of action remain elusive. In this study, we examined gene expression in Marek's disease virus-transformed chicken T-cell line MSB-1 after infection with CAV using both a custom 5K immune-focused microarray and quantitative realtime PCR at 24, 48 and 72 h post-infection. The data demonstrate an intricate equilibrium between CAV and the host gene expression, displaying subtle but significant modulation of transcripts involved in the T-cell, inflammation and NF-kappa B signalling cascades. CAV efficiently blocked the induction of type-I interferons and interferon-stimulated genes at 72 h. The cell expression pattern implies that CAV subverts host antiviral responses and that the transformed environment of MSB-1 cells offers an opportunistic advantage for virus growth.

Rodriguez L, Nogales A, Iqbal M, Perez D R, Martinez-Sobrido L (2018)

Identification of the amino acid residues responsible for inhibition of host gene expression by influenza A H9N2 NS1

Frontiers in Microbiology 9, 2546


H9N2 influenza A viruses (IAV) are considered low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIV). These viruses are endemic in poultry in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Several cases of H9N2-associated infections in humans as well as in pigs have led the World Health Organization (WHO) to include these viruses among those with pandemic potential. To date, the processes and mechanisms associated with H9N2 IAV adaptation to mammals are poorly understood. The nonstructural protein 1 (NS1) from IAV is a virulence factor that counteracts the innate immune responses. Here, we evaluated the ability of the NS1 protein from A/quail/Hong Kong/G1/97 (HK/97) H9N2 to inhibit host immune responses. We found that HK/97 NS1 protein counteracted interferon (IFN) responses but was not able to inhibit host gene expression in human or avian cells. In contrast, the NS1 protein from earlier H9N2 IAV strains, including the first H9N2 A/turkey/Wisconsin/1/1966 (WI/66), were able to inhibit both IFN and host gene expression. Using chimeric constructs between WI/66 and HK/97 NS1 proteins, we identified the region and amino acid residues involved in inhibition of host gene expression. Amino acid substitutions L103F, I106M, P114S, G125D and N139D in HK/97 NS1 resulted in binding to the 30-kDa subunit of the cleavage and polyadenylation specificity factor (CPSF30) and, in consequence, inhibition of host gene expression. Notably, changes in the same amino acid residues resulted in the lack of inhibition of host gene expression by WI/66 NS1. Importantly, our results identified a new combination of amino acids required for NS1 binding to CPSF30 and inhibition of host gene expression. These results also confirm previous studies demonstrating strain specific differences in the ability of NS1 proteins to inhibit host gene expression. 

Ferretti L, Weinreich D, Tajima F, Achaz G (2018)

Evolutionary constraints in fitness landscapes

Heredity ,


In the last years, several genotypic fitness landscapes—combinations of a small number of mutations—have been experimentally resolved. To learn about the general properties of “real” fitness landscapes, it is key to characterize these experimental landscapes via simple measures of their structure, related to evolutionary features. Some of the most relevant measures are based on the selectively acessible paths and their properties. In this paper, we present some measures of evolutionary constraints based on (i) the similarity between accessible paths and (ii) the abundance and characteristics of “chains” of obligatory mutations, that are paths going through genotypes with a single fitter neighbor. These measures have a clear evolutionary interpretation. Furthermore, we show that chains are only weakly correlated to classical measures of epistasis. In fact, some of these measures of constraint are non-monotonic in the amount of epistatic interactions, but have instead a maximum for intermediate values. Finally, we show how these measures shed light on evolutionary constraints and predictability in experimentally resolved landscapes.

Ferretti L, Ribeca P, Ramos-Onsins S (2018)

The site frequency/dosage spectrum of autopolyploid populations

Frontiers in Genetics 9,


The Site Frequency Spectrum (SFS) and the heterozygosity of allelic variants are among the most important summary statistics for population genetic analysis of diploid organisms. We discuss the generalisation of these statistics to populations of autopolyploid organisms in terms of the joint Site Frequency/Dosage Spectrum and its expected value for autopolyploid populations that follow the standard neutral model. Based on these results, we present estimators of nucleotide variability from High-Throughput Sequencing (HTS) data of autopolyploids and discuss potential issues related to sequencing errors and variant calling. We use these estimators to generalise Tajima's D and other SFS-based neutrality tests to HTS data from autopolyploid organisms. Finally, we discuss how these approaches fail when the number of individuals is small. In fact, in autopolyploids there are many possible deviations from the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, each reflected in a different shape of the individual dosage distribution. The SFS from small samples is often dominated by the shape of these deviations of the dosage distribution from its Hardy-Weinberg expectations.


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