Reverse genetics systems for contemporary isolates of respiratory syncytial virus enable rapid evaluation of antibody escape mutants
Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of acute lower respiratory infection in children under 5 y of age. In the absence of a safe and effective vaccine and with limited options for therapeutic interventions, uncontrolled epidemics of RSV occur annually worldwide. Existing RSV reverse genetics systems have been predominantly based on older laboratory-adapted strains such as A2 or Long. These strains are not representative of currently circulating genotypes and have a convoluted passage history, complicating their use in studies on molecular determinants of viral pathogenesis and intervention strategies. In this study, we have generated reverse genetics systems for clinical isolates of RSV-A (ON1, 0594 strain) and RSV-B (BA9, 9671 strain) in which the full-length complementary DNA (cDNA) copy of the viral antigenome is cloned into a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC). Additional recombinant (r) RSVs were rescued expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP), mScarlet, or NanoLuc luciferase from an additional transcription unit inserted between the P and M genes. Mutations in antigenic site II of the F protein conferring escape from palivizumab neutralization (K272E, K272Q, S275L) were investigated using quantitative cell-fusion assays and rRSVs via the use of BAC recombineering protocols. These mutations enabled RSV-A and -B to escape palivizumab neutralization but had differential impacts on cell-to-cell fusion, as the S275L mutation resulted in an almost-complete ablation of syncytium formation. These reverse genetics systems will facilitate future cross-validation efficacy studies of novel RSV therapeutic intervention strategies and investigations into viral and host factors necessary for virus entry and cell-to-cell spread.