In vitro-selected drug-resistant varicella-zoster virus mutants in the thymidine kinase and DNA polymerase genes yield novel phenotype-genotype associations and highlight differences between antiherpesvirus drugs

G Andrei, D Topalis, P Fiten, C McGuigan, J Balzarini, G Opdenakker, R Snoeck
Journal of Virology 2012, 86 (5): 2641-52
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is usually associated with mild to moderate illness in immunocompetent patients. However, older age and immune deficiency are the most important risk factors linked with virus reactivation and severe complications. Treatment of VZV infections is based on nucleoside analogues, such as acyclovir (ACV) and its valyl prodrug valacyclovir, penciclovir (PCV) as its prodrug famciclovir, and bromovinyldeoxyuridine (BVDU; brivudin) in some areas. The use of the pyrophosphate analogue foscarnet (PFA) is restricted to ACV-resistant (ACV(r)) VZV infections. Since antiviral drug resistance is an emerging problem, we attempt to describe the contributions of specific mutations in the viral thymidine kinase (TK) gene identified following selection with ACV, BVDU and its derivative BVaraU (sorivudine), and the bicyclic pyrimidine nucleoside analogues (BCNAs), a new class of potent and specific anti-VZV agents. The string of 6 Cs at nucleotides 493 to 498 of the VZV TK gene appeared to function as a hot spot for nucleotide insertions or deletions. Novel amino acid substitutions (G24R and T86A) in VZV TK were also linked to drug resistance. Six mutations were identified in the "palm domain" of VZV DNA polymerase in viruses selected for resistance to PFA, PCV, and the 2-phophonylmethoxyethyl (PME) purine derivatives. The investigation of the contributions of specific mutations in VZV TK or DNA polymerase to antiviral drug resistance and their impacts on the structures of the viral proteins indicated specific patterns of cross-resistance and highlighted important differences, not only between distinct classes of antivirals, but also between ACV and PCV.

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