Genetic analysis of the capsid region of norovirus GII.4 variants isolated in South Korea
The major capsid protein of norovirus GII.4 strains is evolving rapidly, resulting in epidemic strains with altered antigenicity. GII.4.2006 Minerva strains circulated at pandemic levels in 2006 and persisted at lower levels until 2009. In 2009, a new GII.4 variant, GII.4.2009 New Orleans, emerged and since then has become the predominant strain circulating in human populations. To determine whether changes in evolving blockade epitopes correlate with the emergence of the GII.4.2009 New Orleans strains, we compared the antibody reactivity of a panel of mouse monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against GII.4.2006 and GII.4.2009 virus-like particles (VLPs). Both anti-GII.4.2006 and GII.4.2009 MAbs effectively differentiated the two strains by VLP-carbohydrate ligand blockade assay. Most of the GII.4.2006 MAbs preferentially blocked GII.4.2006, while all of the GII.4.2009 MAbs preferentially blocked GII.4.2009, although 8 of 12 tested blockade MAbs blocked both VLPs. Using mutant VLPs designed to alter predicted antigenic epitopes, binding of seven of the blockade MAbs was impacted by alterations in epitope A, identifying residues 294, 296, 297, 298, 368, and 372 as important antigenic sites in these strains. Convalescent-phase serum collected from a GII.4.2009 outbreak confirmed the immunodominance of epitope A, since alterations of epitope A affected serum reactivity by 40%. These data indicate that the GII.4.2009 New Orleans variant has evolved a key blockade epitope, possibly allowing for at least partial escape from protective herd immunity and provide epidemiological support for the utility of monitoring changes in epitope A in emergent strain surveillance.