Updates on Astroviruses 2014 – 2015

Novel human astroviruses: challenges for developing countries.

Astroviruses have been gaining widespread importance over the past few decades owing to their detection through advanced molecular techniques. The association of astrovirus-associated enteric infections have been reported from various settings among different age groups. The tremendous efforts of scientists from different countries to detect and characterize these star-like viruses in the course of surveillance has shown the emergence of novel astroviruses from varied host species, necessitating changes in the classification to update their taxonomy. The public health importance of these viruses implies new control measures are essential to reduce disease burden in developing countries.


Astrovirus VA1/HMO-C: An Increasingly Recognized Neurotropic Pathogen in Immunocompromised Patients


An 18-month-old boy developed encephalopathy, for which extensive investigation failed to identify an etiology, 6 weeks after stem cell transplant. To exclude a potential infectious cause, we performed high-throughput RNA sequencing on brain biopsy.


RNA-Seq was performed on an Illumina Miseq, generating 20 million paired-end reads. Nonhost data were checked for similarity to known organisms using BLASTx. The full viral genome was sequenced by primer walking.


We identified an astrovirus, HAstV-VA1/HMO-C-UK1(a), which was highly divergent from human astrovirus (HAstV 1-8) genotypes, but closely related to VA1/HMO-C astroviruses, including one recovered from a case of fatal encephalitis in an immunosuppressed child. The virus was detected in stool and serum, with highest levels in brain and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Immunohistochemistry of the brain biopsy showed positive neuronal staining. A survey of 680 stool and 349 CSF samples identified a related virus in the stool of another immunosuppressed child.


The discovery of HAstV-VA1/HMO-C-UK1(a) as the cause of encephalitis in this case provides further evidence that VA1/HMO-C viruses, unlike HAstV 1-8, are neuropathic, particularly in immunocompromised patients, and should be considered in the differential diagnosis of encephalopathy. With a turnaround from sample receipt to result of <1 week, we confirm that RNA-Seq presents a valuable diagnostic tool in unexplained encephalitis.


Rapid and simultaneous detection of three major diarrhea-causing viruses by multiplex real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification.

Rotaviruses, noroviruses and astroviruses are the major viral pathogens leading to diarrhea worldwide. Epidemiological investigations of outbreaks associated with these viruses have been impeded by the lack of methods for quick diagnosis and detection. In the current study, a multiplex real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (RT-NASBA) system was developed for the simultaneous detection of rotavirus A/norovirus genogroup II/astrovirus. The specificity and sensitivity of the assay were compared with multiplex RT-PCR. The results showed that the multiplex RT-NASBA assay was established successfully, and robust signals could be observed in 10 minutes with high specificity. The limit of detection of the multiplex RT-NASBA assay was 7, 100, and 200 copies per reaction for rotavirus A, norovirus genogroup II, and astrovirus, respectively. The assay was thus 10 to 100 times more sensitive than multiplex RT-PCR. Clinical evaluation indicated that the assay was 100% concordant with multiplex RT-PCR and was reliable for the detection of both single infections and multiple infections in stool samples. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first multiplex RT-NASBA assay established for the detection of three major diarrhea-causing viruses. This assay provides a valuable platform for the rapid, specific, sensitive and simultaneous diagnosis of these pathogens, especially in resource-limited countries where expensive thermocycling equipment is not available.


Genetic heterogeneity and recombination in type-3 human astroviruses.

Human astroviruses (HAstV) are important enteric pathogens and can be classified genetically and antigenically into eight types. During molecular surveillance for human astroviruses in Italy, sequence analysis of the diagnostic region C (about 400 nucleotide in length), located on the capsid (ORF2) gene, identified a novel type-3 strain. Upon sequencing of the full-length ORF2, the type-3 HAstV strain was characterized as a novel ORF2 genetic lineage, designated as 3c. By converse, in the ORF1b the virus was more similar to type-1 HAstVs, rather than to type-3 strains, suggesting a recombination nature, with the crossover site being mapped to the ORF1b/ORF2 junction region. Region C sequences of similar type-3 HAstV identified from European and extra-European countries were retrieved in the databases, suggesting the global distribution of this novel type-3 lineage


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