Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus (FMDV) isolates show variation in their ability to withstand an increase in temperature. The FMDV is surprisingly thermolabile, even though this virus is probably subjected to a strong extracellular selective pressure by heat in hot climate regions where FMD is prevalent. The three SAT serotypes, with their particularly low biophysical stability also only yield vaccines of low protective capacity, even with multiple booster vaccinations. The aim of the study was to determine the inherent biophysical stability of field SAT isolates. To characterise the biophysical stability of 20 SAT viruses from Southern Africa, the thermofluor assay was used to monitor capsid dissociation by the release of the RNA genome under a range of temperature, pH and ionic conditions.
The SAT2 and SAT3 viruses had a similar range of thermostability of 48–54 °C. However, the SAT1 viruses had a wider range of thermostability with an 8 °C difference but with many viruses being unstable at 43–46 °C. The thermostable A-serotype A24 control virus had the highest thermostability of 55 °C with some SAT2 and SAT3 viruses of similar thermostability. There was a 10 °C difference between the most unstable SAT virus (SAT1/TAN/2/99) and the highly stable A24 control virus. SAT1 viruses were generally more stable compared to SAT2 and SAT3 viruses at the pH range of 6.7–9.1. The effect of ionic buffers on capsid stability showed that SAT1 and SAT2 viruses had an increased stability of 2–9 °C and 2–6 °C, respectively, with the addition of 1 M NaCl. This is in contrast to the SAT3 viruses, which did not show improved stabilisation after addition of 1 M or 0.5 M NaCl buffers. Some buffers showed differing results dependent on the virus tested, highlighting the need to test SAT viruses with different solutions to establish the most stabilising option for storage of each virus. This study confirms for the first time that more stable SAT field viruses are present in the southern Africa region. This could facilitate the selection of the most stable circulating field strains, for adaptation to cultured BHK-21 cells or manipulation by reverse genetics and targeted mutation to produce improved vaccine master seed viruses.