University roles and responsibilities
- Associate theme champion for infection and immunity
In the media
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is an important human pathogen of medical and economic impact. HSV infection is life-long and once acquired it remains dormant in the body, poised to re-emerge and cause disease. It is the causative agent of recurring oral and genital herpes, both of which have profound effects on the quality of life of sufferers. Upon activation, HSV can also have much more serious consequences. For example, it is a pioneer infection for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), making individuals more susceptible to HIV infection. It is the major cause of infectious blindness, and viral encephalitis that results in death or devastating brain damage. In developing countries neonatal herpes remains a cause of death in newborns. Individuals who have a suppressed immune system, such as transplant, cancer chemotherapy, and AIDS patients, are particularly susceptible to complications of HSV. With 24 million new cases globally each year, this virus is a huge economic burden on our health systems. However, efforts to develop an HSV vaccine have, without exception, failed. Moreover, although drug treatments for HSV have existed for decades, their use has made no impact on this HSV epidemic and resistance is growing. It is therefore vital that new ways to treat HSV are identified.
To understand how to treat virus infections, it is first important to understand how they cause disease. HSV produces a number of factors that are considered non-essential for infection in cells in the lab, but are vital for the virus to cause disease in the host animal. These factors represent new targets for therapeutic intervention. One of these is virion host shutoff (vhs), which has a role in controlling the global cellular environment to make it favourable for efficient virus growth. Nonetheless, it is not yet clear how vhs activity influences the outcome of the disease process in a balanced fashion, such that it does not create a hostile environment for the virus. Using a global approach to look at cellular changes in HSV1 infection, we have discovered that vhs appears to target specific groups of cellular factors involved in pathways that determine the make-up of the environment outside the cell. Here, we propose to use state-of-the-art technology to define in detail the targets that are highly susceptible to vhs activity. New tools will be developed to identify the infected cell components that interact with vhs to understand how vhs is targeted to its site of action. Finally, we will determine if the activity of vhs prepares the cell to make large numbers of virus structural components thereby enabling the efficient production of new virus particles. In this way we aim to unravel the complexities of vhs activity to further our understanding of its role in virus infection and identify target interactions to potentially inhibit therapeutically.
Lyssaviruses (family Rhabdoviridae) constitute one of the most important groups of viral zoonoses globally. All lyssaviruses cause the disease rabies, an acute progressive encephalitis for which, once symptoms occur, there is no effective cure. Currently available vaccines are highly protective against the predominantly circulating lyssavirus species. Using next-generation sequencing technologies, we have obtained the whole-genome sequence for a novel lyssavirus, Ikoma lyssavirus (IKOV), isolated from an African civet in Tanzania displaying clinical signs of rabies. Genetically, this virus is the most divergent within the genus Lyssavirus. Characterization of the genome will help to improve our understanding of lyssavirus diversity and enable investigation into vaccine-induced immunity and protection.
Control of rabies requires a consistent supply of dependable resources, constructive cooperation between veterinary and public health authorities, and systematic surveillance. These are challenging in any circumstances, but particularly during conflict. Here we describe available human rabies surveillance data from Iraq, results of renewed sampling for rabies in animals, and the first genetic characterisation of circulating rabies strains from Iraq. Human rabies is notifiable, with reported cases increasing since 2003, and a marked increase in Baghdad between 2009 and 2010. These changes coincide with increasing numbers of reported dog bites. There is no laboratory confirmation of disease or virus characterisation and no systematic surveillance for rabies in animals. To address these issues, brain samples were collected from domestic animals in the greater Baghdad region and tested for rabies. Three of 40 brain samples were positive using the fluorescent antibody test and hemi-nested RT-PCR for rabies virus (RABV). Bayesian phylogenetic analysis using partial nucleoprotein gene sequences derived from the samples demonstrated the viruses belong to a single virus variant and share a common ancestor with viruses from neighbouring countries, 22 (95% HPD 14-32) years ago. These include countries lying to the west, north and east of Iraq, some of which also have other virus variants circulating concurrently. These results suggest possible multiple introductions of rabies into the Middle East, and regular trans-boundary movement of disease. Although 4000 years have passed since the original description of disease consistent with rabies, animals and humans are still dying of this preventable and neglected zoonosis.
Background With the advent of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies, the ability to generate large amounts of sequence data has revolutionized the genomics field. Most RNA viruses have relatively small genomes in comparison to other organisms and as such, would appear to be an obvious success story for the use of NGS technologies. However, due to the relatively low abundance of viral RNA in relation to host RNA, RNA viruses have proved relatively difficult to sequence using NGS technologies. Here we detail a simple, robust methodology, without the use of ultra-centrifugation, filtration or viral enrichment protocols, to prepare RNA from diagnostic clinical tissue samples, cell monolayers and tissue culture supernatant, for subsequent sequencing on the Roche 454 platform. Results As representative RNA viruses, full genome sequence was successfully obtained from known lyssaviruses belonging to recognized species and a novel lyssavirus species using these protocols and assembling the reads using de novo algorithms. Furthermore, genome sequences were generated from considerably less than 200 ng RNA, indicating that manufacturers’ minimum template guidance is conservative. In addition to obtaining genome consensus sequence, a high proportion of SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) were identified in the majority of samples analyzed. Conclusions The approaches reported clearly facilitate successful full genome lyssavirus sequencing and can be universally applied to discovering and obtaining consensus genome sequences of RNA viruses from a variety of sources.
In 2009, a novel lyssavirus (subsequently named Ikoma lyssavirus, IKOV) was detected in the brain of an African civet (Civettictis civetta) with clinical rabies in the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania. The degree of nucleotide divergence between the genome of IKOV and those of other lyssaviruses predicted antigenic distinction from, and lack of protection provided by, available rabies vaccines. In addition, the index case was considered likely to be an incidental spillover event, and therefore the true reservoir of IKOV remained to be identified. The advent of sensitive molecular techniques has led to a rapid increase in the discovery of novel viruses. Detecting viral sequence alone, however, only allows for prediction of phenotypic characteristics and not their measurement. In the present study we describe the in vitro and in vivo characterization of IKOV, demonstrating that it is (1) pathogenic by peripheral inoculation in an animal model, (2) antigenically distinct from current rabies vaccine strains and (3) poorly neutralized by sera from humans and animals immunized against rabies. In a laboratory mouse model, no protection was elicited by a licensed rabies vaccine. We also investigated the role of bats as reservoirs of IKOV. We found no evidence for infection among 483 individuals of at least 13 bat species sampled across sites in the Serengeti and Southern Kenya.
Rabies is a fatal neurologic disease caused by lyssavirus infection. Bats are important natural reservoir hosts of various lyssaviruses that can be transmitted to people. The epidemiology and pathogenesis of rabies in bats are poorly understood, making it difficult to prevent zoonotic transmission. To further our understanding of lyssavirus pathogenesis in a natural bat host, an experimental model using straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) and Lagos bat virus, an endemic lyssavirus in this species, was developed. To determine the lowest viral dose resulting in 100% productive infection, bats in five groups (four bats per group) were inoculated intramuscularly with one of five doses, ranging from 100.1 to 104.1 median tissue culture infectious dose (TCID50). More bats died due to the development of rabies after the middle dose (102.1 TCID50, 4/4 bats) than after lower (101.1, 2/4; 101.1, 2/4) or higher (103.1, 2/4; 104.1, 2/4) doses of virus. In the two highest dose groups, 4/8 bats developed rabies. Of those bats that remained healthy 3/4 bats seroconverted, suggesting that high antigen loads can trigger a strong immune response that abrogates a productive infection. In contrast, in the two lowest dose groups, 3/8 bats developed rabies, 1/8 remained healthy and seroconverted and 4/8 bats remained healthy and did not seroconvert, suggesting these doses are too low to reliably induce infection. The main lesion in all clinically affected bats was meningoencephalitis associated with lyssavirus-positive neurons. Lyssavirus antigen was detected in tongue epithelium (5/11 infected bats) rather than in salivary gland epithelium (0/11), suggesting viral excretion via the tongue. Thus, intramuscular inoculation of 102.1 TCID50 of Lagos bat virus into straw-colored fruit bats is a suitable model for lyssavirus associated bat rabies in a natural reservoir host, and can help with the investigation of lyssavirus infection dynamics in bats.
Rapid, high throughput diagnostics are a valuable tool, allowing the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in populations, in order to identify and isolate people with asymptomatic and symptomatic infections. Reagent shortages and restricted access to high throughput testing solutions have limited the effectiveness of conventional assays such as reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), particularly throughout the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigated the use of LamPORE, where loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) is coupled to nanopore sequencing technology, for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in symptomatic and asymptomatic populations. In an asymptomatic prospective cohort, for three weeks in September 2020 health care workers across four sites (Birmingham, Southampton, Basingstoke and Manchester) self-swabbed with nasopharyngeal swabs weekly and supplied a saliva specimen daily. These samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA using the Oxford Nanopore LamPORE system and a reference RT-qPCR assay on extracted sample RNA. A second retrospective cohort of 848 patients with influenza like illness from March 2020 – June 2020, were similarly tested from nasopharyngeal swabs. In the asymptomatic cohort a total of 1200 participants supplied 23,427 samples (3,966 swab, 19,461 saliva) over a three-week period. The incidence of SARS-CoV-2 detection using LamPORE was 0.95%. Diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of LamPORE was >99.5% (reducing to ∼ 98% when clustered estimation was used) in both swab and saliva asymptomatic samples when compared to the reference RT-qPCR test. In the retrospective symptomatic cohort, the incidence was 13.4% and the sensitivity and specificity were 100%. LamPORE is a highly accurate methodology for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in both symptomatic and asymptomatic population settings and can be used as an alternative to RT-qPCR.
Bat rabies cases in Europe are mainly attributed to two lyssaviruses, namely European Bat Lyssavirus 1 (EBLV-1) and European Bat Lyssavirus 2 (EBLV-2). Prior to the death of a bat worker in Finland in 1985, very few bat rabies cases were reported. Enhanced surveillance in the two subsequent years (1986-1987) identified 263 cases (more than a fifth of all reported cases to date). Between 1977 and 2016, 1183 cases of bat rabies were reported, with the vast majority (>97%) being attributed to EBLV-1. In contrast, there have been only 39 suspected cases of EBLV-2, of which 34 have been confirmed by virus typing and presently restricted to just two bat species; and . The limited number of EBLV-2 cases in Europe prompted the establishment of a network of European reference laboratories to collate all available viruses and data. Despite the relatively low number of EBLV-2 cases, a large amount of anomalous data has been published in the scientific literature, which we have here reviewed and clarified. In this review, 29 EBLV-2 full genome sequences have been analysed to further our understanding of the diversity and molecular evolution of EBLV-2 in Europe. Analysis of the 29 complete EBLV-2 genome sequences clearly corroborated geographical relationships with all EBLV-2 sequences clustering at the country level irrespective of the gene studied. Further geographical clustering was also observed at a local level. There are high levels of homogeneity within the EBLV-2 species with nucleotide identities ranging from 95.5-100% and amino acid identities between 98.7% and 100%, despite the widespread distribution of the isolates both geographically and chronologically. The mean substitution rate for EBLV-2 across the five concatenated genes was 1.65 × 10 , and evolutionary clock analysis confirms the slow evolution of EBLV-2 both between and within countries in Europe. This is further supported by the first detailed EBLV-2 intra-roost genomic analysis whereby a relatively high sequence homogeneity was found across the genomes of three EBLV-2 isolates obtained several years apart (2007, 2008, and 2014) from at the same site (Stokesay Castle, Shropshire, UK).
Oropouche virus (OROV) is responsible for outbreaks of Oropouche fever in parts of South America. We recently identified and isolated OROV from a febrile Ecuadorian patient, however, a previously published qRT-PCR assay did not detect OROV in the patient sample. A primer mismatch to the Ecuadorian OROV lineage was identified from metagenomic sequencing data. We report the optimisation of an qRT-PCR assay for the Ecuadorian OROV lineage, which subsequently identified a further five cases in a cohort of 196 febrile patients. We isolated OROV via cell culture and developed an algorithmically-designed primer set for whole-genome amplification of the virus. Metagenomic sequencing of the patient samples provided OROV genome coverage ranging from 68-99%. The additional cases formed a single phylogenetic cluster together with the initial case. OROV should be considered as a differential diagnosis for Ecuadorian patients with febrile illness to avoid mis-diagnosis with other circulating pathogens.
Extensive global sampling and sequencing of the pandemic virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have enabled researchers to monitor its spread and to identify concerning new variants. Two important determinants of variant spread are how frequently they arise within individuals and how likely they are to be transmitted. To characterize within-host diversity and transmission, we deep-sequenced 1313 clinical samples from the United Kingdom. SARS-CoV-2 infections are characterized by low levels of within-host diversity when viral loads are high and by a narrow bottleneck at transmission. Most variants are either lost or occasionally fixed at the point of transmission, with minimal persistence of shared diversity, patterns that are readily observable on the phylogenetic tree. Our results suggest that transmission-enhancing and/or immune-escape SARS-CoV-2 variants are likely to arise infrequently but could spread rapidly if successfully transmitted.
•Novel rapid RT-LAMP assay with diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of 97% and 99%.•Development of an RNA extraction free direct detection method for SARS-CoV-2.•Use case modelling for rapid direct RT-LAMP in near-patient clinical practice.•Developing diversity of testing modalities within a diagnostic laboratory during a pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of simple, rapid and accurate diagnostic testing. This study describes the validation of a new rapid SARS-CoV-2 RT-LAMP assay for use on extracted RNA or directly from swab offering an alternative diagnostic pathway that does not rely on traditional reagents that are often in short supply during a pandemic. Analytical specificity (ASp) of this new RT-LAMP assay was 100% and analytical sensitivity (ASe) was between 1 × 101 and 1 × 102 copies per reaction when using a synthetic DNA target. The overall diagnostic sensitivity (DSe) and specificity (DSp) of RNA RT-LAMP was 97% and 99% respectively, relative to the standard of care rRT-PCR. When a CT cut-off of 33 was employed, above which increasingly evidence suggests there is a low risk of patients shedding infectious virus, the diagnostic sensitivity was 100%. The DSe and DSp of Direct RT-LAMP (that does not require RNA extraction) was 67% and 97%, respectively. When setting CT cut-offs of ≤33 and ≤25, the DSe increased to 75% and 100%, respectively, time from swab-to-result, CT < 25, was < 15 min. We propose that RNA RT-LAMP could replace rRT-PCR where there is a need for increased sample throughput and Direct RT-LAMP as a near-patient screening tool to rapidly identify highly contagious individuals within emergency departments and care homes during times of increased disease prevalence ensuring negative results still get laboratory confirmation.
The Amazon basin is home to numerous arthropod-borne viral pathogens that cause febrile disease in humans. Among these, (OROV) is a relatively understudied member of the genus , family , that causes periodic outbreaks in human populations in Brazil and other South American countries. Although several studies have described the genetic diversity of the virus, the evolutionary processes that shape the OROV genome remain poorly understood. Here, we present a comprehensive study of the genomic dynamics of OROV that encompasses phylogenetic analysis, evolutionary rate estimates, inference of natural selective pressures, recombination and reassortment, and structural analysis of OROV variants. Our study includes all available published sequences, as well as a set of new OROV genome sequences obtained from patients in Ecuador, representing the first set of genomes from this country. Our results show differing evolutionary processes on the three segments that comprise the viral genome. We infer differing times of the most recent common ancestors of the genome segments and propose that this can be explained by cryptic reassortment. We also present the discovery of previously unobserved putative N-linked glycosylation sites, as well as codons that evolve under positive selection on the viral surface proteins, and discuss the potential role of these features in the evolution of OROV through a combined phylogenetic and structural approach. The emergence and reemergence of pathogens such as Zika virus, chikungunya virus, and yellow fever virus have drawn attention toward other cocirculating arboviruses in South America. Oropouche virus (OROV) is a poorly studied pathogen responsible for over a dozen outbreaks since the early 1960s and represents a public health burden to countries such as Brazil, Panama, and Peru. OROV is likely underreported since its symptomatology can be easily confounded with other febrile illnesses (e.g., dengue fever and leptospirosis) and point-of-care testing for the virus is still uncommon. With limited data, there is a need to optimize the information currently available. Analysis of OROV genomes can help us understand how the virus circulates in nature and can reveal the evolutionary forces that shape the genetic diversity of the virus, which has implications for molecular diagnostics and the design of potential vaccines.
Passive surveillance for lyssaviruses in UK bats has been ongoing since 1987 and has identified 13 cases of EBLV-2 from a single species; Myotis daubentonii. No other lyssavirus species has been detected. Between 2005 and 2015, 10 656 bats were submitted, representing 18 species, creating a spatially and temporally uneven sample of British bat fauna. Uniquely, three UK cases originate from a roost at Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, England, where daily checks for grounded and dead bats are undertaken and bat carcasses have been submitted for testing since 2007. Twenty per cent of Daubenton's bats submitted from Stokesay Castle since surveillance began, have tested positive for EBLV-2. Phylogenetic analysis reveals geographical clustering of UK viruses. Isolates from Stokesay Castle are more closely related to one another than to viruses from other regions. Daubenton's bats from Stokesay Castle represent a unique opportunity to study a natural population that appears to maintain EBLV-2 infection and may represent endemic infection at this site. Although the risk to public health from EBLV-2 is low, consequences of infection are severe and effective communication on the need for prompt post-exposure prophylaxis for anyone that has been bitten by a bat is essential.
We report identification of an Oropouche virus strain in a febrile patient from Ecuador by using metagenomic sequencing and real-time reverse transcription PCR. Virus was isolated from patient serum by using Vero cells. Phylogenetic analysis of the whole-genome sequence showed the virus to be similar to a strain from Peru.
The Middle East is a culturally and politically diverse region at the gateway between Europe, Africa and Asia. Spatial dynamics of the fatal zoonotic disease rabies among countries of the Middle East and surrounding regions is poorly understood. An improved understanding of virus distribution is necessary to direct control methods. Previous studies have suggested regular trans-boundary movement, but have been unable to infer direction. Here we address these issues, by investigating the evolution of 183 rabies virus isolates collected from over 20 countries between 1972 and 2014. We have undertaken a discrete phylogeographic analysis on a subset of 139 samples to infer where and when movements of rabies have occurred. We provide evidence for four genetically distinct clades with separate origins currently circulating in the Middle East and surrounding countries. Introductions of these viruses have been followed by regular and multidirectional trans-boundary movements in some parts of the region, but relative isolation in others. There is evidence for minimal regular incursion of rabies from Central and Eastern Asia. These data support current initiatives for regional collaboration that are essential for rabies elimination.
Hantaviruses are emerging zoonotic viruses that cause human diseases. In this study, sera from 642 mammals from La Réunion and Mayotte islands (Indian Ocean) were screened for the presence of hantaviruses by molecular analysis. None of the mammals from La Réunion island was positive, but hantavirus genomic RNA was discovered in 29/160 (18 %) Rattus rattus from Mayotte island. The nucleoprotein coding region was sequenced from the liver and spleen of all positive individuals allowing epidemiological and intra-strain variability analyses. Phylogenetic analysis based on complete coding genomic sequences showed that this Murinae-associated hantavirus is a new variant of Thailand virus. Further studies are needed to investigate hantaviruses in rodent hosts and in Haemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS) human cases.
A novel lyssavirus was isolated from brains of Indian flying foxes (Pteropus medius) in Sri Lanka. Phylogenetic analysis of complete virus genome sequences, and geographic location and host species, provides strong evidence that this virus is a putative new lyssavirus species, designated as Gannoruwa bat lyssavirus.
As part of further investigations into three linked haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) cases in Wales and England, 21 rats from a breeding colony in Cherwell, and three rats from a household in Cheltenham were screened for hantavirus. Hantavirus RNA was detected in either the lungs and/or kidney of 17/21 (81%) of the Cherwell rats tested, higher than previously detected by blood testing alone (7/21, 33%), and in the kidneys of all three Cheltenham rats. The partial L gene sequences obtained from 10 of the Cherwell rats and the three Cheltenham rats were identical to each other and the previously reported UK Cherwell strain. Seoul hantavirus (SEOV) RNA was detected in the heart, kidney, lung, salivary gland and spleen (but not in the liver) of an individual rat from the Cherwell colony suspected of being the source of SEOV. Serum from 20/20 of the Cherwell rats and two associated HFRS cases had high levels of SEOV-specific antibodies (by virus neutralisation). The high prevalence of SEOV in both sites and the moderately severe disease in the pet rat owners suggest that SEOV in pet rats poses a greater public health risk than previously considered.
Rabies is a fatal neurologic disease caused by lyssavirus infection. People are infected through contact with infected animals. The relative increase of human rabies acquired from bats calls for a better understanding of lyssavirus infections in their natural hosts. So far, there is no experimental model that mimics natural lyssavirus infection in the reservoir bat species. Lagos bat virus is a lyssavirus that is endemic in straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) in Africa. Here we compared the susceptibility of these bats to three strains of Lagos bat virus (from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana) by intracranial inoculation. To allow comparison between strains, we ensured the same titer of virus was inoculated in the same location of the brain of each bat. All bats (n = 3 per strain) were infected, and developed neurological signs, and fatal meningoencephalitis with lyssavirus antigen expression in neurons. There were three main differences among the groups. First, time to death was substantially shorter in the Senegal and Ghana groups (4 to 6 days) than in the Nigeria group (8 days). Second, each virus strain produced a distinct clinical syndrome. Third, the spread of virus to peripheral tissues, tested by hemi-nested reverse transcriptase PCR, was frequent (3 of 3 bats) and widespread (8 to 10 tissues positive of 11 tissues examined) in the Ghana group, was frequent and less widespread in the Senegal group (3/3 bats, 3 to 6 tissues positive), and was rare and restricted in the Nigeria group (1/3 bats, 2 tissues positive). Centrifugal spread of virus from brain to tissue of excretion in the oral cavity is required to enable lyssavirus transmission. Therefore, the Senegal and Ghana strains seem most suitable for further pathogenesis, and for transmission, studies in the straw-colored fruit bat.