Molecular characterisation of virus in the brains of patients with measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE)

BACKGROUND: During 2009/10 a major measles epidemic caused by genotype B3 occurred in South Africa. Measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE) was diagnosed in a number of highly immuno-compromised HIV patients. The diagnosis was based on typical clinical and MRI findings and positive measles virus PCR in brain or CSF.To characterize the brain virus, nucleoprotein, matrix, fusion and haemagglutinin genes from 4 cases was compared with virus from acutely infected patients. METHODS: cDNA was synthesized using random primers and viral genes were amplified by nested RT-PCR. PCR products were sequenced in the forward and reverse direction and a contig of each gene was created. Sequences were aligned with reference sequences from GenBank and other local sequences. RESULTS: Brain virus was very similar to the South African epidemic virus. Features characteristic of persistent measles virus in the brain were absent. Mutation frequency in brain virus was similar to epidemic virus and had the same substitution preference (U to C and C to U). The virus of 2 patients had the same L454W mutation in the fusion protein. CONCLUSION: The brain virus was very similar to the epidemic strain. The relatively few mutations probably reflect the short time from infection to brain disease in these highly immuno-compromised patients.