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Concept: Orthopoxvirus


The question of the origin of smallpox, one of the major menaces to humankind, is a constant concern for the scientific community. Smallpox is caused by the agent referred to as the variola virus (VARV), which belongs to the genus Orthopoxvirus. In the last century, smallpox was declared eradicated from the human community; however, the mechanisms responsible for the emergence of new dangerous pathogens have yet to be unraveled. Evolutionary analyses of the molecular biological genomic data of various orthopoxviruses, involving a wide range of epidemiological and historical information about smallpox, have made it possible to date the emergence of VARV. Comparisons of the VARV genome to the genomes of the most closely related orthopoxviruses and the examination of the distribution their natural hosts' ranges suggest that VARV emerged 3000 to 4000 years ago in the east of the African continent. The VARV evolution rate has been estimated to be approximately 2 × 10-6 substitutions/site/year for the central conserved genomic region and 4 × 10-6 substitutions/site/year for the synonymous substitutions in the genome. Presumably, the introduction of camels to Africa and the concurrent changes to the climate were the particular factors that triggered the divergent evolution of a cowpox-like ancestral virus and thereby led to the emergence of VARV.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genome, Africa, Vaccination, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Orthopoxvirus


Antiviral activity of the new chemically synthesized compound NIOCH-14 (the derivative of tricyclodicarboxylic acid) in comparison with ST-246 (the condensed derivative of pyrroldion) in experiments in vitro and in vivo using orthopoxviruses including highly pathogenic ones was observed. After oral administration of NIOCH-14 to outbred ICR mice infected intranasally with 100 % lethal dose of ectromelia virus, it was shown that 50 % effective doses of NIOCH-14 and ST-246 did not significantly differ. The “therapeutic window” varied from 1 day before infection to 6 days post infection (p.i.) to achieve 100 - 60 % survival rate. The administration of NIOCH-14 and ST-246 to mice resulted in a significant reduction of ectromelia virus titers in examined organs as compared with the control and also reduced pathological changes in the lungs 6 days p.i. Oral administration of NIOCH-14 and ST-246 to ICR mice and marmots challenged with monkeypox virus as compared with the control resulted in a significant reduction of virus production in the lungs and the proportion of infected mice 7 days p.i. as well as the absence of disease in marmots. Significantly lower proportions of infected mice and virus production levels in the lungs as compared with the control were demonstrated in experiments after oral administration of NIOCH-14 and ST-246 to ICR mice and immunodeficient SCID mice challenged with variola virus 3 and 4 days p.i. respectively. The obtained results suggest good prospects for further study of the chemical compound NIOCH-14 to create a new smallpox drug on its basis.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Vaccination, Chemistry, Chemical substance, Chemical compound, Smallpox, Orthopoxvirus, Monkeypox


Human infection by orthopoxviruses is being reported with increasing frequency, attributed in part to the cessation of smallpox vaccination and concomitant waning of population-level immunity. In July 2015, a female resident of interior Alaska, presented to an urgent care clinic with a dermal lesion consistent with poxvirus infection. Laboratory testing of a virus isolated from the lesion confirmed infection by an Orthopoxvirus.

Concepts: Immune system, Virus, Vaccination, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Cowpox, Edward Jenner, Orthopoxvirus


In 2007, the United States- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance concerning animal models for testing the efficacy of medical countermeasures against variola virus (VARV), the etiologic agent for smallpox. Ectromelia virus (ECTV) is naturally-occurring and responsible for severe mortality and morbidity as a result of mousepox disease in the murine model, displaying similarities to variola infection in humans. Due to the increased need of acceptable surrogate animal models for poxvirus disease, we have characterized ECTV infection in the BALB/c mouse. Mice were inoculated intranasally with a high lethal dose (125 PFU) of ECTV, resulting in complete mortality 10 days after infection. Decreases in weight and temperature from baseline were observed eight to nine days following infection. Viral titers via quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and plaque assay were first observed in the blood at 4.5 days post-infection and in tissue (spleen and liver) at 3.5 days post-infection. Adverse clinical signs of disease were first observed four and five days post-infection, with severe signs occurring on day 7. Pathological changes consistent with ECTV infection were first observed five days after infection. Examination of data obtained from these parameters suggests the ECTV BALB/c model is suitable for potential use in medical countermeasures (MCMs) development and efficacy testing.

Concepts: DNA, Infectious disease, Polymerase chain reaction, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Orthopoxvirus


Diagnostic electron microscopy (DEM) was an essential component of viral diagnosis until the development of highly sensitive nucleic acid amplification techniques (NAT). The simple negative staining technique of DEM was applied widely to smallpox diagnosis until the world-wide eradication of the human-specific pathogen in 1980. Since then, the threat of smallpox re-emerging through laboratory escape, molecular manipulation, synthetic biology or bioterrorism has not totally disappeared and would be a major problem in an unvaccinated population. Other animal poxviruses may also emerge as human pathogens. With its rapid results (only a few minutes after arrival of the specimen), no requirement for specific reagents and its “open view”, DEM remains an important component of virus diagnosis, particularly because it can easily and reliably distinguish smallpox virus or any other member of the orthopoxvirus (OPV) genus from parapoxviruses (PPV) and the far more common and less serious herpesviruses (herpes simplex and varicella zoster). Preparation, enrichment, examination, internal standards and suitable organisations are discussed to make clear its continuing value as a diagnostic technique.

Concepts: Biology, Virus, Vaccination, Herpesviridae, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Chickenpox, Orthopoxvirus


Ectromelia virus (ECTV) is an orthopoxvirus and the causative agent of mousepox. Like other poxviruses such as variola virus (agent of smallpox), monkeypox virus and vaccinia virus (the live vaccine for smallpox), ECTV promotes actin-nucleation at the surface of infected cells during virus release. Homologs of the viral protein A36 mediate this function through phosphorylation of one or two tyrosine residues that ultimately recruit the cellular Arp2/3 actin-nucleating complex. A36 also functions in the intracellular trafficking of virus mediated by kinesin-1. Here, we describe the generation of a recombinant ECTV that is specifically disrupted in actin-based motility allowing us to examine the role of this transport step in vivo for the first time. We show that actin-based motility has a critical role in promoting the release of virus from infected cells in vitro but plays a minor role in virus spread in vivo. It is likely that loss of microtubule-dependent transport is a major factor for the attenuation observed whenA36Ris deleted.

Concepts: Vaccine, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Poxviruses, Orthopoxvirus, Monkeypox


Variola virus (VARV), the causative agent of smallpox, is an exclusively human virus belonging to the genus Orthopoxvirus, which includes many other viral species covering a wide range of mammal hosts, such as vaccinia, cowpox, camelpox, taterapox, ectromelia and monkeypox virus. The tempo and mode of evolution of Orthopoxviruses were reconstructed using a Bayesian phylodynamic framework by analysing 80 hemagglutinin sequences retrieved from public databases. Bayesian phylogeography was used to estimate their putative ancestral hosts. In order to estimate the substitution rate, the tree including all of the available Orthopoxviruses was calibrated using historical references dating the South American variola minor clade (alastrim) to between the XVI and XIX century. The mean substitution rate determined by the analysis was 6.5 × 10-6substitutions/site/year. Based on this evolutionary estimate, the time of the most recent common ancestor of the genus Orthopoxvirus was placed at about 10,000 years before the present. Cowpox virus was the species closest to the root of the phylogenetic tree. The root of VARV circulating in the XX century was estimated to be about 700 years ago, corresponding to about 1300 AD. The divergence between West African and South American VARV went back about 500 years ago (falling approximately in the XVI century). A rodent species is the most probable ancestral host from which the ancestors of all the known Orthopoxviruses were transmitted to the other mammal host species, and each of these species represented a dead-end for each new poxvirus species, without any further inter-specific spread. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Evolution, Vaccination, Phylogenetics, Vaccinia, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Cowpox, Orthopoxvirus


This article examines the biosecurity and biodefense implications resulting from the recent creation of horsepox virus, a noncirculating (extinct) species of orthopoxvirus. Here we examine the technical aspects of the horsepox virus synthesis and conclude that orthopox synthesis experiments currently remain technically challenging-and will continue to be so, even once this work is published in the scientific literature. This limits potential misuse by some types of nefarious actors. We also examine the implications of one stated purpose for the recreation of horsepox virus: the development of a smallpox vaccine. If the development is successful, it could take advantage of US government incentives for the priority FDA review of medical countermeasures (MCMs) against biosecurity threats. However, if this case leads to the determination that this incentive is counterproductive for security, the newly created priority review voucher program should be more clearly defined or limited based on need. Limiting the program could have costs that require further consideration, however, as general incentives for biodefense medical countermeasure development are required for MCMs to be available. Finally, while the recreation of horsepox virus was not technically trivial, nor was it cell-free, this experiment was a de facto demonstration of already-assumed scientific capabilities. The ability to recreate horsepox, or smallpox, will remain no matter what policy controls are put into place. It will be impossible to close off all avenues for nefarious misuse of gene synthesis, or misuse of biological materials more broadly. As a result, we advocate for the implementation of policy, regulations, and guidance that will make illicit recreation harder, more burdensome, more detectable, and, thus, more preventable without having sweeping negative consequences for the research enterprise. As part of our biosecurity efforts, we must also encourage and enable scientists to participate actively and to do all they can to safeguard their technical fields from irresponsible or illicit actions.

Concepts: Vaccination, Science, Experiment, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Biological warfare, Incentive, Orthopoxvirus


Virus purification in a high-containment setting provides unique challenges due to barrier precautions and operational safety approaches that are not necessary in lower biosafety level (BSL) 2 environments. The need for high risk group pathogen diagnostic assay development, anti-viral research, pathogenesis and vaccine efficacy research necessitates work in BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs with infectious agents. When this work is performed in accordance with BSL-4 practices, modifications are often required in standard protocols. Classical virus purification techniques are difficult to execute in a BSL-3 or BSL-4 laboratory because of the work practices used in these environments. Orthopoxviruses are a family of viruses that, in some cases, requires work in a high-containment laboratory and due to size do not lend themselves to simpler purification methods. Current CDC purification techniques of orthopoxviruses uses 1,1,2-trichlorotrifluoroethane, commonly known as Genetron(®). Genetron(®) is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) that has been shown to be detrimental to the ozone and has been phased out and the limited amount of product makes it no longer a feasible option for poxvirus purification purposes. Here we demonstrate a new orthopoxvirus purification method that is suitable for high-containment laboratories and produces virus that is not only comparable to previous purification methods, but improves on purity and yield.

Concepts: Immune system, Virus, Vaccination, Infection, Laboratory, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Orthopoxvirus


Brincidofovir (BCV, CMX001) is an orally available, long-acting, broad-spectrum antiviral that has been evaluated in healthy subjects in Phase I studies and in hematopoietic cell transplant recipients and other immunocompromised patients in Phase II/III clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of cytomegalovirus and adenovirus infections. BCV has also shown in vitro activity against orthopoxviruses such as variola (smallpox) virus, and is under advanced development as a treatment for smallpox under the US FDA’s ‘Animal Rule’. The anticipated treatment regimen for smallpox is a total weekly dose of 200 mg administered orally for 3 consecutive weeks. To assess the benefit-to-risk profile of BCV for the treatment of smallpox, we evaluated short-term safety data associated with comparable doses from Phase I studies and from adult and pediatric subjects in the cytomegalovirus and adenovirus clinical programs. When administered at doses and durations similar to that proposed for the treatment of smallpox, BCV was generally well tolerated in both adults and pediatric subjects. The most common adverse events were mild gastrointestinal events and asymptomatic, transient, and reversible elevations in serum transaminases. The data presented herein indicate a favorable safety profile for BCV for the treatment of smallpox, and support its continued development for this indication.

Concepts: Clinical trial, Virus, Infection, Poxviridae, Smallpox, Adverse event, Food and Drug Administration, Orthopoxvirus