Yu Zhang, Aijing Liu, Yanan Wang, Hongyu Cui, Yulong Gao, Xiaole Qi, Changjun Liu, Yanping Zhang, Kai Li, Li Gao, Qing Pan, Xiaomei Wang
J Virol.2021 Jun 16;JVI0060321.doi: 10.1128/JVI.00603-21. Online ahead of print.
Since 2015, severe hydropericardium-hepatitis syndrome (HHS) associated with a novel fowl adenovirus 4 (FAdV-4) has emerged in China, representing a new challenge for the poultry industry. Although various highly pathogenic FAdV-4 strains have been isolated, the virulence factor and the pathogenesis of novel FAdV-4 are unclear. In our previous studies, we reported that a large genomic deletion (1966 bp) is not related to increased virulence. In this study, two recombinant chimeric viruses, rHN20 strain and rFB2 strain, were generated from a highly pathogenic FAdV-4 strain by replacing hexon or fiber-2 gene of a non-pathogenic FAdV-4, respectively. Both chimeric strains showed similar titers to the wild type strain in vitro. Notably, rFB2 and the wild type strain induced 100% mortality, while no mortality or clinical signs appeared in chickens inoculated with rHN20, indicating that hexon, but not fiber-2, determines the novel FAdV-4 virulence. Furthermore, an R188I mutation in the hexon protein identified residue 188 as the key amino acid for the reduced pathogenicity. The rR188I mutant strain was significantly neutralized by chicken serum in vitro and in vivo, whereas the wild type strain was able to replicate efficiently. Finally, the immunogenicity of the rescued rR188I was investigated. Non-pathogenic rR188I provided full protection against lethal FAdV-4 challenge. Collectively, these findings provide an in-depth understanding of the molecular basis of novel FAdV-4 pathogenicity and present rR188I as a potential live attenuated vaccine candidate or a novel vaccine vector for HHS vaccines. Importance HHS associated with a novel FAdV-4 infection in chickens has caused huge economic losses to the poultry industry in China since 2015. The molecular basis for the increased virulence remains largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that the hexon gene is vital for FAdV-4 pathogenicity. Furthermore, we show that the amino acid residue at position 188 of the hexon protein is responsible for pathogenicity. Importantly, the rR188I mutant strain was neutralized by chicken serum in vitro and in vivo, whereas the wild type strain was not. Further, the rR188I mutant strain provided complete protection against FAdV-4 challenge. Our results provide a molecular basis of the increased virulence of novel FAdV-4. We propose that the rR188I mutant is a potential live attenuated vaccine against HHS and a new vaccine vector for HHS-combined vaccines.