Astrovirus VA1/HMO-C (VA1; mamastrovirus 9) is a recently discovered astrovirus genotype that is divergent from the classic human astroviruses (mamastrovirus 1). The gastrointestinal tract is presumed to be the primary site of infection and pathogenicity for astroviruses. However, VA1 has been independently detected in brain tissue of five cases of human encephalitis. Studies of the pathogenicity of VA1 are currently impossible because there are no reported cell culture systems or in vivo models that support VA1 infection. Here, we describe successful propagation of VA1 in multiple human cell lines. The initial inoculum, a filtered clinical stool sample from the index gastroenteritis case cluster that led to the discovery of VA1, was first passaged in Vero cells. Serial blind passage in Caco-2 cells yielded increasing copies of VA1 RNA, and multistep growth curves demonstrated a >100-fold increase in VA1 RNA 72 h after inoculation. The full-length genomic and subgenomic RNA strands were detected by Northern blotting, and crystalline lattices of viral particles of ~26-nm diameter were observed by electron microscopy in infected Caco-2 cells. Unlike other human astrovirus cell culture systems, which require addition of exogenous trypsin for continued propagation, VA1 could be propagated equally well with or without the addition of trypsin. Furthermore, VA1 was sensitive to the type I interferon (IFN-I) response, as VA1 RNA levels were reduced by pretreatment of Caco-2 cells with IFN-β1a. The ability to propagate VA1 in cell culture will facilitate studies of the neurotropism and neuropathogenesis of VA1.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00740-17
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Astrovirus
  • Astrovirus VA1
  • Cell culture
  • Electron microscopy
  • Encephalitis
  • Pathogenesis
  • Subgenomic RNA
  • Viral propagation


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