Zika virus encoding nonglycosylated envelope protein is attenuated and defective in neuroinvasion

Arun S. Annamalai, Aryamav Pattnaik, Bikash R. Sahoo, Ezhumalai Muthukrishnan, Sathish Kumar Natarajan, David Steffen, Hiep L.X. Vu, Gustavo Delhon, Fernando A. Osorio, Thomas M. Petro, Shi Hua Xiang, Asit K. Pattnaik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Zika virus (ZIKV), a mosquito-transmitted flavivirus responsible for sporadic outbreaks of mild and febrile illness in Africa and Asia, reemerged in the last decade causing serious human diseases, including microcephaly, congenital malformations, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Although genomic and phylogenetic analyses suggest that genetic evolution may have led to the enhanced virulence of ZIKV, experimental evidence supporting the role of specific genetic changes in virulence is currently lacking. One sequence motif, VNDT, containing an N-linked glycosylation site in the envelope (E) protein, is polymorphic; it is absent in many of the African isolates but present in all isolates from the recent outbreaks. In the present study, we investigated the roles of this sequence motif and glycosylation of the E protein in the pathogenicity of ZIKV. We first constructed a stable full-length cDNA clone of ZIKV in a novel linear vector from which infectious virus was recovered. The recombinant ZIKV generated from the infectious clone, which contains the VNDT motif, is highly pathogenic and causes lethality in a mouse model. In contrast, recombinant viruses from which the VNDT motif is deleted or in which the N-linked glycosylation site is mutated by single-amino-acid substitution are highly attenuated and nonlethal. The mutant viruses replicate poorly in the brains of infected mice when inoculated subcutaneously but replicate well following intracranial inoculation. Our findings provide the first evidence that N-linked glycosylation of the E protein is an important determinant of ZIKV virulence and neuroinvasion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01348-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Attenuation
  • E protein glycosylation
  • Neuroinvasion
  • Zika virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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