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Characterization of Genotype V Japanese Encephalitis Virus Isolates from Republic of Korea.

Japanese encephalitis (JE), caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) infection, continues to pose significant public health challenges worldwide despite efficient vaccines. The virus is classified into five genotypes, among which genotype V (GV) was not detected for a long period after its initial isolation in 1952, until reports emerged from China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) since 2009. The characteristics of the virus are crucial in estimating its potential epidemiological impact. However, characterization of GV JEVs has so far been limited to two strains: Muar, the original isolate, and XZ0934, isolated in China. Two additional ROK GV JEV isolates, NCCP 43279 and NCCP 43413, are currently available, but their characteristics have not been explored. Our phylogenetic analysis revealed that GV virus sequences from the ROK segregate into two clades. NCCP 43279 and NCCP 43413 belong to different clades and exhibit distinct in vitro phenotypes. NCCP 43279 forms larger plaques but demonstrates inefficient propagation in cell culture compared to NCCP 43413. In vivo , NCCP 43279 induces higher morbidity and mortality in mice than NCCP 43413. Notably, NCCP 43279 shows more severe blood-brain barrier damage, suggesting superior brain invasion capabilities. Consistent with its higher virulence, NCCP 43279 displays more pronounced histopathological and immunopathological outcomes. In conclusion, our study confirms that the two ROK isolates are not only classified into different clades but also exhibit distinct in vitro and in vivo characteristics.

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