Enteroviruses are well known for their ability to cause neurological damage and paralysis. The model enterovirus is poliovirus (PV), the causative agent of poliomyelitis, a condition characterized by acute flaccid paralysis. A related virus, enterovirus 71 (EV-A71), causes similar clinical outcomes in recurrent outbreaks throughout Asia. Retrospective phylogenetic analysis has shown that recombination between circulating strains of EV-A71 produces the outbreak-associated strains which exhibit increased virulence and/or transmissibility. While studies on the mechanism(s) of recombination in PV are ongoing in several laboratories, little is known about factors that influence recombination in EV-A71. We have developed a cell-based assay to study recombination of EV-A71 based upon previously reported assays for poliovirus recombination. Our results show that (i) EV-A71 strain type and RNA sequence diversity impacts recombination frequency in a predictable manner that mimics the observations found in nature; (ii) recombination is primarily a replicative process mediated by the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase; (iii) a mutation shown to reduce recombination in PV (L420A) similarly reduces EV-A71 recombination, suggesting conservation in mechanism(s); and (iv) sequencing of intraserotypic recombinant genomes indicates that template switching occurs by a mechanism that may require some sequence homology at the recombination junction and that the triggers for template switching may be sequence independent. The development of this recombination assay will permit further investigation on the interplay between replication, recombination and disease.IMPORTANCE Recombination is a mechanism that contributes to genetic diversity. We describe the first assay to study EV-A71 recombination. Results from this assay mimic what is observed in nature and can be used by others to predict future recombination events within the enterovirus species A group. In addition, our results highlight the central role played by the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) in the recombination process. Further, our results show that changes to a conserved residue in the RdRp from different species groups have a similar impact on viable recombinant virus yields, which is indicative of conservation in mechanism.
- replicative recombination