Pathogenesis and Cross-species Infection of Hepatitis E Virus

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Virginia Tech

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV), the causative agent of hepatitis E, is a zoonotic pathogen of worldwide significance. The genus Orthohepevirus A of the family Hepeviridae includes all mammalian strains of HEV and consists of 8 recognized genotypes. Genotypes 1 and 2 HEVs only infect humans and genotypes 3 and 4 infect humans and several other animal species including pigs and rabbits. An ever-expanding host range of genetically-diversified strains of HEV now include bat, fish, rat, ferret, moose, wild boar, mongoose, deer, and camel. Additionally, the ruminant species goats, sheep, and cattle have been implicated as potential reservoirs as well.

My dissertation research investigates a novel animal model for HEV, examines the immune dynamics during acute infection, and evaluates the possibility of additional animal reservoirs of HEV. The first project established an immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy chain knock-out JH (-/-) gnotobiotic piglet model that mimics the course of acute HEV infection observed in humans and evaluated the pathogenesis of HEV infection in this novel animal model. The dynamics of acute HEV infection in gnotobiotic pigs were systematically determined with a genotype 3 human strain of HEV. We also investigated the potential role of immunoglobulin heavy-chain JH in HEV pathogenesis and immune dynamics during the acute stage of virus infection. This novel gnotobiotic pig model will aid in future studies into HEV pathogenicity, an aspect which has thus far been difficult to reproduce in the available animal model systems.

The objective of the second project for my PhD dissertation was to determine if cattle in the United States are infected with a bovine strain of HEV. We demonstrated serological evidence of an HEV-related agent in cattle populations with a high level of IgG anti-HEV prevalence. We demonstrated that calves from a seropositive cattle herd seroconverted to IgG binding HEV during a prospective study. We also showed that the IgG anti-HEV present in cattle has an ability to neutralize genotype 3 human HEV in vitro. However, our exhaustive attempts to detect HEVrelated sequence from cattle in the United States failed, suggesting that one should be cautious in interpreting the IgG anti-HEV serological results in bovine and other species. Collectively, the work from my PhD dissertation delineated important mechanisms in HEV pathogenesis and established a novel animal model for future HEV research.

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV), gnotobiotic pig, Ig heavy-chain knock-out, novel model, animal reservoir, bovine, seroprevalence, cross-species infection