Identification of OP354-like human rotavirus strains with subtype Pb in Ghanaian children with diarrhoea
© Damanka et al. 2016
Received: 17 June 2015
Accepted: 7 April 2016
Published: 22 April 2016
Rotaviruses with the P genotype have been associated with majority of infections. Recent improvements in molecular diagnostics have delineated the P genotype into Pa and Pb subtypes. Pa is the previously known P genotype which is common whilst Pb subtype also known as OP354-like strain is genetically distinct, rarely detected and reported from a few countries. In a previous study, the P-types could not be determined for 80 RVA-positive samples by conventional RT-PCR genotyping methods with the recommended pool of P-genotype specific primers used in the WHO Regional Rotavirus Reference Laboratory in Ghana. The present study employed sequence-dependent cDNA amplification method to genotype previously non-typeable P-types.
Viral RNAs were extracted and rotavirus VP4 genes amplified by one step RT-PCR using gene specific primers. PCR amplicons were purified, sequenced and sequences aligned with cognate gene sequences available in GenBank using the ClustalW algorithm. Phylogenetic analysis was performed using the Neighbour-Joining method in MEGA v6.06 software. Phylogenetic tree was statistically supported by bootstrapping with 1000 replicates, and distances calculated using the Kimura-2 parameter model.
Of the 80 RVA-positive samples, 57 were successfully sequenced and characterized. Forty-eight of these were identified as P strains of which 5 were characterized as the rare Pb subtype. Phylogenetic analysis of the VP8* fragment of the VP4 genes of these Pb strains revealed a close relationship with prototype OP354-like Pb strain and Pb strains of Russian and South African Pb origin.
The study highlights the importance of regularly updating the primers employed for molecular typing of rotaviruses.
Group A rotaviruses are the most important aetiological agent of severe dehydrating diarrhoea in children less than 5 years of age accounting for an estimated 453,000 deaths annually . Rotaviruses with the P genotype have been associated with majority of these infections, accounting for approximately 74 % of global prevalence . In order to control severe disease caused by rotavirus infection, vaccination is considered an essential strategy. The two currently available rotavirus vaccines (Rotarix™ and RotaTeq™) both include the rotavirus P genotype, which has recently been classified into two subtypes- Pa and Pb (OP354-like) [3, 4]. Whilst Pa which corresponds to the previously known P genotype is common, Pb is rarely detected, genetically distinct from Pa with limited reports globally [4–6]. The prototype OP354 strain bearing Pb specificity was detected in the Malawian strain . A recently inferred evolutionary history of OP354-like Pb rotavirus strains globally showed that these strains emerged relatively recently, spreading from South and East Asia to Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and North America . In previous WHO sponsored rotavirus surveillance studies in selected African countries,  the genotypes of 80 RVA-positive samples with first round RT-PCR amplification products could not be determined with the recommended primers presently available within the WHO Regional Reference Laboratory in Ghana. This study sought to determine genotypes of previously non-typeable rotavirus VP4 genes using sequence-dependent cDNA amplification methods.
Rotavirus continues to be a major cause of diarrhoeal disease among children less than 5 years old. Among the five major rotavirus strains (G1P, G2P, G3P, G4P and G9P) causing severe disease in children, G1P has been found to be the predominant strain [2, 10]. Rotaviruses with the P VP4 genotype are a major cause of acute infantile diarrhoea. Recent improvement in molecular characterisation has delineated the P genotype into Pa and Pb subtypes. The Pa subtype is the previously known common Pgenotype, whilst the Pb (OP354-like P) subtype is rare and has been identified in only a few cases . In this study, we report for the first time rotaviruses with the Pb subtype as a cause of diarrhoeal disease in hospitalized Ghanaian children. The prototype Pb rotavirus (strain OP354) was reported in Malawi, Blantyre during a two year study of viral gastroenteritis in children (1997–1999)  and subsequently detected mainly in Asian countries [11–13]. The Ghanaian OP354-like P strains were phylogenetically closely related to strains mostly from Africa and South Asia suggesting common origin. This finding supports the recently inferred evolutionary history of OP354-like Pb rotavirus strains globally . Compared with other VP4 P lineages, strains bearing OP354-like P genes emerged relatively recently, spreading from South and East Asia to Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and North America in less than 20 years. Considering that all the Ghanaian OP354-like P strains were isolated in the same rotavirus season, it is unclear whether they are continually circulating or their detection resulted from a one-time seeding event. Continuous surveillance of rotavirus strains using updated PCR primer sets capable of detecting OP354-like P strains should clarify this, and in the process, determine whether they will be an important genotype in the human rotavirus population. Though, Nguyen et al.,  speculated that Pb rotaviruses cause more severe disease than Pa subtypes, this study was unable to validate this position or otherwise. This was due to the disproportionately small number of Pb strains as well as insufficient clinical records. In the present study, 10.4 % (5/48) of previously non-typeable P rotaviruses were successfully sequenced and characterized as the rare OP354-like Pb rotavirus strain. Both of the currently available rotavirus vaccines [Rotarix™ and RotaTeq™] include Pa VP4 gene but not Pb [3, 14]. It has been reported that there is a relatively large genetic distance between OP354-like P strains and the Pa strain contained in both vaccines which is translated into multiple differences in antigenic epitopes . Therefore, it remains unclear whether these vaccines will provide efficient protection against Pb rotavirus strains [4, 15]. Full genome characterization of the Ghanaian Pb subtype is presently being conducted to elucidate their origin and evolutionary dynamics.
We have been able to characterize the VP4 genes of previously non-typeable Ghanaian rotavirus genotypes and established their phylogeny. The rare OP354-like Pb subtype of rotavirus strain has been detected and reported for the first time in Ghana. Expansion of Pb subtype data would lead to a better understanding of transmission dynamics of this rare subtype in Ghana in relation to Pa. The study highlights the importance of regularly updating PCR primers employed for molecular typing of rotaviruses. It also indicates the necessity for continuous surveillance especially in the post-vaccine era.
The study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Legon, Accra, Ghana.
Viral RNA was extracted from 10 % stool suspensions by the phenol-chloroform method  and purified with the RNaid® Kit (Bio 101, Carlsbad, USA). A one step RT-PCR targeting the VP4 genes of RVA was carried out using the PCR primer pairs, Con2/Con3 and VP4-F/VP4-R to generate 876 bp and 663 bp VP8*gene fragments respectively. The success of gene amplification was verified by electrophoresis on 2 % agarose gel stained with ethidium bromide. The VP4-F/VP4-R RT-PCR products (663 bp) were purified with the QIAquick PCR purification kit (Qiagen/Westburg) following the manufacturer’s instructions. Sequencing of the purified products was performed using the di-deoxynucleotide chain termination method with the ABI PRISM™ BigDye Terminator Cycle Sequencing Reaction Kit v.3.1 (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA). After post purification, sequences were read in an automated sequencer (ABI PRISM™ 3130).
Rotavirus Pb study strains and published Pb reference strains with their GeneBank accession numbers used in the construction of the phylogenetic tree
Nucleotide sequence accession numbers
The nucleotide sequences of the Pb rotaviruses reported in the study have been deposited in the GenBank database under accession numbers KM379145-KM379149 (GHA-949/DC/2010; GHA-716/PML/2010; GHA-094/M/2010; GHA-176/M/2010 and GHA-192/M/2010 respectively).
The authors acknowledge the staff of the Department of Electron Microscopy and Histopathology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana for their technical assistance.
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