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Revisiting Rustrela Virus: New Cases of Encephalitis and a Solution to the Capsid Enigma

Rustrela virus (RusV; species Rubivirus strelense) is a recently discovered relative of rubella virus (RuV) that has been detected in cases of encephalitis in diverse mammals. Here, we diagnosed two additional cases of fatal RusV-associated meningoencephalitis in a South American coati (Nasua nasua) and a Eurasian or European otter (Lutra lutra) that were detected in a zoological garden with history of prior RusV infections. Both animals showed abnormal movement or unusual behavior and their brains tested positive for RusV using specific reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) and RNA in situ hybridization. As previous sequencing of the RusV genome proved to be very challenging, we employed a sophisticated target-specific capture enrichment with specifically designed RNA baits to generate complete RusV genome sequences from both detected encephalitic animals and apparently healthy wild yellow-necked field mice (Apodemus flavicollis). Furthermore, the technique was used to revise three previously published RusV genomes from two encephalitic animals and a wild yellow-necked field mouse. When comparing the newly generated RusV sequences to the previously published RusV genomes, we identified a previously undetected stretch of 309 nucleotides predicted to represent the intergenic region and the sequence encoding the N terminus of the capsid protein. This indicated that the original RusV sequence was likely incomplete due to misassembly of the genome at a region with an exceptionally high G+C content of >80 mol%. The new sequence data indicate that RusV has an overall genome length of 9,631 nucleotides with the longest intergenic region (290 nucleotides) and capsid protein-encoding sequence (331 codons) within the genus Rubivirus.


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