Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) have been prepared against vaccine and wild-type strains of yellow fever (YF) virus, and envelope protein epitopes specific for vaccine (MAbs H5 and H6) and wild-type (MAbs S17, S18, S24, and S56) strains of YF virus have been identified. Wild-type YF virus FVV, Dakar 1279, and B4.1 were each given six passages in HeLa cells. FVV and B4.1 were attenuated for newborn mice following passage in HeLa cells, whereas Dakar 1279 was not. Examination of the envelope proteins of the viruses with 87 MAbs showed that attenuated viruses gained only the vaccine epitope recognized by MAb H5 and lost wild-type epitopes recognized by MAbs S17, S18, and S24 whereas the nonattenuated Dakar 1279 HeLa p6 virus did not gain the vaccine epitope, retained the wild-type epitopes, and showed no other physical epitope alterations. MAb neutralization-resistant (MAbr) escape variants generated by using wild-type-specific MAbs S18 and S24 were found to lose the epitopes recognized by MAbs S18 and S24 and to acquire the epitope recognized by vaccine-specific MAb H5. In addition, the MAbr variants became attenuated for mice. Thus, the data presented in this paper indicate that acquisition of vaccine epitopes and loss of wild-type epitopes on the envelope protein are directly involved in the attenuation process of YF virus and suggest that the envelope protein is one of the genes encoding determinants of YF virus pathogenicity.
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