UNLABELLED - Recent experiments suggest that some glycoprotein (GP)-specific monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) can protect experimental animals against the filovirus Ebola virus (EBOV). There is a need for isolation of MAbs capable of neutralizing multiple filoviruses. Antibody neutralization assays for filoviruses frequently use surrogate systems such as the rhabdovirus vesicular stomatitis Indiana virus (VSV), lentiviruses or gammaretroviruses with their envelope proteins replaced with EBOV GP or pseudotyped with EBOV GP. It is optimal for both screening and in-depth characterization of newly identified neutralizing MAbs to generate recombinant filoviruses that express a reporter fluorescent protein in order to more easily monitor and quantify the infection. Our study showed that unlike neutralization-sensitive chimeric VSV, authentic filoviruses are highly resistant to neutralization by MAbs. We used reverse genetics techniques to replace EBOV GP with its counterpart from the heterologous filoviruses Bundibugyo virus (BDBV), Sudan virus, and even Marburg virus and Lloviu virus, which belong to the heterologous genera in the filovirus family. This work resulted in generation of multiple chimeric filoviruses, demonstrating the ability of filoviruses to tolerate swapping of the envelope protein. The sensitivity of chimeric filoviruses to neutralizing MAbs was similar to that of authentic biologically derived filoviruses with the same GP. Moreover, disabling the expression of the secreted GP (sGP) resulted in an increased susceptibility of an engineered virus to the BDBV52 MAb isolated from a BDBV survivor, suggesting a role for sGP in evasion of antibody neutralization in the context of a human filovirus infection.
IMPORTANCE - The study demonstrated that chimeric rhabdoviruses in which G protein is replaced with filovirus GP, widely used as surrogate targets for characterization of filovirus neutralizing antibodies, do not accurately predict the ability of antibodies to neutralize authentic filoviruses, which appeared to be resistant to neutralization. However, a recombinant EBOV expressing a fluorescent protein tolerated swapping of GP with counterparts from heterologous filoviruses, allowing high-throughput screening of B cell lines to isolate MAbs of any filovirus specificity. Human MAb BDBV52, which was isolated from a survivor of BDBV infection, was capable of partially neutralizing a chimeric EBOV carrying BDBV GP in which expression of sGP was disabled. In contrast, the parental virus expressing sGP was resistant to the MAb. Thus, the ability of filoviruses to tolerate swapping of GP can be used for identification of neutralizing MAbs specific to any filovirus and for the characterization of MAb specificity and mechanism of action.
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