In order to evaluate the variability of encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV), field isolates originating from different European regions and inducing different clinical pictures in pigs have been molecularly characterised. The regions targeted were the poly(C) tract, a part of the 5′-UTR (360 nucleotides), the Leader gene (201 nucleotides), the complete capsid coding region (2502 nucleotides), the 2A gene (403 nucleotides), the end of the 3D polymerase gene (305 nucleotides) and the 3′-UTR (123 nucleotides). Analyses have also been performed on a virulent field isolate, which had been subjected to serial passages in vivo and in vitro resulting, in the case of the in vitro passaged virus, in attenuation, as demonstrated by animal experiments. The present study shows that different clinical pictures, such as acute fatal myocarditis or reproductive failure, may not only be caused by EMCV isolates which are genetically diverse but also by the same isolate. Thus no correlation could be demonstrated between genotype and clinical disease. However, the European isolate which showed the highest genetic divergence also gave rise to a more complex clinical picture. Despite EMCV having been isolated from cases of acute fatal myocarditis in pigs in certain areas of the world for many years, clinical disease, including a variety of clinical pictures and pathogenicity, has only been recognised in Europe since 1986 and thus it can be considered an emerging disease in this region. These findings, associated with the reported phenotype changes of the virus under environmental changes (passages), along with its wide distribution among vertebrate species (including higher primates), shows the validity of considering EMCV as a potential pathogen for recipients in xenotransplantation.
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