Identification of a novel hantavirus strain in the root vole (Microtus oeconomus) in Lithuania, Eastern Europe
Hantaviruses are zoonotic pathogens that can cause subclinical to lethal infections in humans. In Europe, five orthohantaviruses are present in rodents: Myodes-associated Puumala orthohantavirus (PUUV), Microtus-associated Tula orthohantavirus, Traemmersee hantavirus (TRAV)/ Tatenale hantavirus (TATV)/ Kielder hantavirus, rat-borne Seoul orthohantavirus, and Apodemus-associated Dobrava-Belgrade orthohantavirus (DOBV). Human PUUV and DOBV infections were detected previously in Lithuania, but the presence of Microtus-associated hantaviruses is not known. For this study we screened 234 Microtus voles, including root voles (Microtus oeconomus), field voles (Microtus agrestis) and common voles (Microtus arvalis) from Lithuania for hantavirus infections. This initial screening was based on reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) targeting the S segment and serological analysis. A novel hantavirus was detected in eight of 79 root voles tentatively named “Rusne virus” according to the capture location and complete genome sequences were determined. In the coding regions of all three genome segments, Rusne virus showed high sequence similarity to TRAV and TATV and clustered with Kielder hantavirus in phylogenetic analyses of partial S and L segment sequences. Pairwise evolutionary distance analysis confirmed Rusne virus as a strain of the species TRAV/TATV. Moreover, we synthesized the entire nucleocapsid (N) protein of Rusne virus in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We observed cross-reactivity of antibodies raised against other hantaviruses, including PUUV, with this new N protein. ELISA investigation of all 234 voles detected Rusne virus-reactive antibodies exclusively in four of 79 root voles, all being also RNA positive, but not in any other vole species. In conclusion, the detection of Rusne virus RNA in multiple root voles at the same trapping site during three years and its absence in sympatric field voles suggests root voles as the reservoir host of this novel virus. Future investigations should evaluate host association of TRAV, TATV, Kielder virus and the novel Rusne virus and their evolutionary relationships.