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Infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus genogroup-specific virulence mechanisms in sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka (Walbaum), from Redfish Lake, Idaho

July 1, 2009

Characterization of infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) field isolates from North America has established three main genogroups (U, M and L) that differ in host-specific virulence. In sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka, the U genogroup is highly virulent, whereas the M genogroup is nearly non-pathogenic. In this study, we sought to characterize the virus-host dynamics that contribute to genogroup-specific virulence in a captive stock of sockeye salmon from Redfish Lake in Idaho. Juvenile sockeye salmon were challenged by immersion and injection with either a representative U or M viral strain and sampled periodically until 14 days post-infection (p.i.). Fish challenged with each strain had positive viral titre by day 3, regardless of challenge route, but the fish exposed to the M genogroup virus had significantly lower virus titres than fish exposed to the U genogroup virus. Gene expression analysis by quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR was used to simultaneously assess viral load and host interferon (IFN) response in the anterior kidney. Viral load was significantly higher in the U-challenged fish relative to M-challenged fish. Both viruses induced expression of the IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs), but expression was usually significantly lower in the M-challenged group, particularly at later time points (7 and 14 days p.i.). However, ISG expression was comparable with 3 days post-immersion challenge despite a significant difference in viral load. Our data indicated that the M genogroup virus entered the host, replicated and spread in the sockeye salmon tissues, but to a lesser extent than the U genogroup. Both virus types induced a host IFN response, but the high virulence strain (U) continued to replicate in the presence of this response, whereas the low virulence strain (M) was cleared below detectable levels. We hypothesize that high virulence is associated with early in vivo replication allowing the virus to achieve a threshold level, which the host innate immune system cannot control. ?? 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.