Resistance testing of clinical varicella-zoster virus strains

Andreas Sauerbrei, Johanna Taut, Roland Zell, Peter Wutzler
Antiviral Research 2011, 90 (3): 242-7
Acyclovir resistance of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) has been reported in rare cases of immunocompromised patients. In this study, the natural polymorphism of the thymidine kinase (TK) and DNA polymerase (pol) genes was examined in 51 clinical VZV isolates sensitive to acyclovir (ACV). In addition, 16 VZV strains with clinical resistance to ACV were analyzed. None of the ACV-sensitive strains of the clades 1, 3 and 5 showed gene polymorphism of the TK. By contrast, the DNA pol gene exhibited polymorphism-related substitutions as a function of the VZV clade. The novel substitutions M286I, E824Q, R984H and H1089Y were detected in strains of clades 3 and 5. In the TK gene of 7 VZV strains with clinical ACV resistance, the novel substitutions L73I, A163stop, W225R, T256M, N334stop and the deletion of nucleotides 19-223 were found to be associated most likely with resistance. In one strain showing the substitution W225R, ACV resistance could be confirmed by the viral phenotype. In the DNA pol gene, the novel amino acid substitutions T237K and A955T could be detected, but their significance remains unclear. In conclusion, the characterization of resistance using genetic analysis of the TK and DNA pol genes has to be considered the method of choice for the determination of VZV resistance to antiviral drugs. In a considerable number of patients with clinical ACV-resistant VZV infections, resistance cannot be verified by virological methods.

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