Both mosquito species-specific differences and virus strain-specific differences impact vector competence. Previous results in our laboratory with individual populations of N. American mosquitoes support studies suggesting Aedes aegypti are more competent than Ae. albopictus for American Zika virus (ZIKV) strains and demonstrate that U.S. Ae. albopictus have higher competence for an ancestral Asian ZIKV strain. A982V, an amino acid substitution in the NS1 gene acquired prior to the American outbreak, has been shown to increase competence in Ae. aegypti. We hypothesized that variability in the NS1 could therefore contribute to species-specific differences and developed a reverse genetics system based on a 2016 ZIKV isolate from Honduras (ZIKV-WTic) to evaluate the phenotypic correlates of individual amino acid substitutions. In addition to A982V, we evaluated G894A, which was acquired during circulation in the Americas. Reversion of 982 and 894 to ancestral residues increased infectivity, transmissibility and viral loads in Ae. albopictus but had no effect on competence or replication in Ae. aegypti. In addition, while host cell-specific differences in NS1 secretion were measured, with significantly higher secretion in mammalian cells relative to mosquito cells, strain-specific differences in secretion were not detected, despite previous reports. These results demonstrate that individual mutations in NS1 can influence competence in a species-specific manner independent of differences in NS1 secretion and further indicate that ancestral NS1 residues confer increased competence in Ae. albopictus. Lastly, experimental infections of Ifnar1-/- mice demonstrated that these NS1 substitutions can influence viral replication in the host and, specifically, that G894A could represent a compensatory change following a fitness loss from A982V with some viral genetic backgrounds. Together these data suggest a possible role for epistatic interactions in ZIKV fitness in invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and demonstrate that strains with increased transmission potential in U.S. Ae. albopictus could emerge.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This publication was primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health award R21AI131683 (ATC). Studies were also partially supported by National Institutes of Health awards R21AI131454 (MTA) and R01AI132563 (MTA), as well as the Cooperative Agreement U01CK000509 (LDK/ATC) funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Its content is solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.