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1.  Reverse genetics in high throughput: rapid generation of complete negative strand RNA virus cDNA clones and recombinant viruses thereof 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:23887.
Reverse genetics approaches are indispensable tools for proof of concepts in virus replication and pathogenesis. For negative strand RNA viruses (NSVs) the limited number of infectious cDNA clones represents a bottleneck as clones are often generated from cell culture adapted or attenuated viruses, with limited potential for pathogenesis research. We developed a system in which cDNA copies of complete NSV genomes were directly cloned into reverse genetics vectors by linear-to-linear RedE/T recombination. Rapid cloning of multiple rabies virus (RABV) full length genomes and identification of clones identical to field virus consensus sequence confirmed the approache’s reliability. Recombinant viruses were recovered from field virus cDNA clones. Similar growth kinetics of parental and recombinant viruses, preservation of field virus characters in cell type specific replication and virulence in the mouse model were confirmed. Reduced titers after reporter gene insertion indicated that the low level of field virus replication is affected by gene insertions. The flexibility of the strategy was demonstrated by cloning multiple copies of an orthobunyavirus L genome segment. This important step in reverse genetics technology development opens novel avenues for the analysis of virus variability combined with phenotypical characterization of recombinant viruses at a clonal level.
PMCID: PMC4820695  PMID: 27046474
2.  A Dynein Light Chain 1 Binding Motif in Rabies Virus Polymerase L Protein Plays a Role in Microtubule Reorganization and Viral Primary Transcription 
Journal of Virology  2015;89(18):9591-9600.
Rabies virus (RABV) polymerase L together with phosphoprotein P forms the PL polymerase complex that is essential for replication and transcription. However, its exact mechanism of action, interactions with cellular factors, and intracellular distribution are yet to be understood. Here by imaging a fluorescently tagged polymerase (mCherry-RABV-L), we show that L accumulates at acetylated and reorganized microtubules (MT). In silico analysis revealed a dynein light chain 1 (DLC1) binding motif in L that could mediate MT binding through dynein motors. As DLC1 binding by polymerase cofactor P is known, we compared the impact of the DLC1-binding motifs in P and L. Viruses with mutations in the respective motifs revealed that both motifs are required for efficient primary transcription, indicating that DLC1 acts as a transcription enhancer by binding to both P and L. Notably, also the levels of cellular DLC1 protein were regulated by both motifs, suggesting regulation of the DLC1 gene expression by both P and L. Finally, disruption of the motif in L resulted in a cell-type-specific loss of MT localization, demonstrating that DLC1 is involved in L-mediated cytoskeleton reorganization. Overall, we conclude that DLC1 acts as a transcription factor that stimulates primary RABV transcription by binding to both P and L. We further conclude that L influences MT organization and posttranslational modification, suggesting a model in which MT manipulation by L contributes to efficient intracellular transport of virus components and thus may serve as an important step in virus replication.
IMPORTANCE Regulation of rabies virus polymerase complex by viral and cellular factors thus far has not been fully understood. Although cellular dynein light chain 1 (DLC1) has been reported to increase primary transcription by binding to polymerase cofactor phosphoprotein P, the detailed mechanism is unknown, and it is also not known whether the large enzymatic polymerase subunit L is involved. By fluorescence microscopy analysis of fluorescence-tagged rabies virus L, in silico identification of a potential DLC1 binding site in L, and characterization of recombinant rabies virus mutants, we show that a DLC1 binding motif in L is involved in cytoskeleton localization and reorganization, primary transcription regulation by DLC1, and regulation of cellular DLC1 gene expression. By providing evidence for a direct contribution of a DLC1 binding motif in L, our data significantly increase the understanding of rabies virus polymerase regulation and host manipulation by the virus as well.
PMCID: PMC4542362  PMID: 26157129
3.  Anterograde Glycoprotein-Dependent Transport of Newly Generated Rabies Virus in Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(24):14172-14183.
Rabies virus (RABV) spread is widely accepted to occur only by retrograde axonal transport. However, examples of anterograde RABV spread in peripheral neurons such as dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons indicated a possible bidirectional transport by an uncharacterized mechanism. Here, we analyzed the axonal transport of fluorescence-labeled RABV in DRG neurons by live-cell microscopy. Both entry-related retrograde transport of RABV after infection at axon endings and postreplicative transport of newly formed virus were visualized in compartmentalized DRG neuron cultures. Whereas entry-related transport at 1.5 μm/s occurred only retrogradely, after 2 days of infection, multiple particles were observed in axons moving in both the anterograde and retrograde directions. The dynamics of postreplicative retrograde transport (1.6 μm/s) were similar to those of entry-related retrograde transport. In contrast, anterograde particle transport at 3.4 μm/s was faster, indicating active particle transport. Interestingly, RABV missing the glycoproteins did not move anterogradely within the axon. Thus, anterograde RABV particle transport depended on the RABV glycoprotein. Moreover, colocalization of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labeled ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) and glycoprotein in distal axonal regions as well as cotransport of labeled RNPs with membrane-anchored mCherry reporter confirmed that either complete enveloped virus particles or vesicle associated RNPs were transported. Our data show that anterograde RABV movement in peripheral DRG neurons occurs by active motor protein-dependent transport. We propose two models for postreplicative long-distance transport in peripheral neurons: either transport of complete virus particles or cotransport of RNPs and G-containing vesicles through axons to release virus at distal sites of infected DRG neurons.
IMPORTANCE Rabies virus retrograde axonal transport by dynein motors supports virus spread over long distances and lethal infection of the central nervous system. Though active rabies virus transport has been widely accepted to be unidirectional, evidence for anterograde spread in peripheral neurons supports the hypothesis that in some neurons RABV also enters the anterograde pathway by so-far unknown mechanisms. By live microscopy we visualized fast anterograde axonal transport of rabies virus. The velocities exceeded those of retrograde movements, suggesting that active, most likely kinesin-dependent transport machineries are involved. Dependency of anterograde transport on the expression of virus glycoprotein G and cotransport with vesicles further suggest that complete enveloped virus particles or cotransport of virus ribonucleoprotein and G-containing vesicles occurred. These data provide the first insight in the mechanism of anterograde rabies virus transport and substantially contribute to the understanding of RABV replication and spread of newly formed virus in peripheral neurons.
PMCID: PMC4249153  PMID: 25275124
4.  Receptor-mediated increase in rabies virus axonal transport 
Neural Regeneration Research  2015;10(6):883-884.
PMCID: PMC4498342  PMID: 26199597
5.  Rabies Virus Hijacks and Accelerates the p75NTR Retrograde Axonal Transport Machinery 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004348.
Rabies virus (RABV) is a neurotropic virus that depends on long distance axonal transport in order to reach the central nervous system (CNS). The strategy RABV uses to hijack the cellular transport machinery is still not clear. It is thought that RABV interacts with membrane receptors in order to internalize and exploit the endosomal trafficking pathway, yet this has never been demonstrated directly. The p75 Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) receptor (p75NTR) binds RABV Glycoprotein (RABV-G) with high affinity. However, as p75NTR is not essential for RABV infection, the specific role of this interaction remains in question. Here we used live cell imaging to track RABV entry at nerve terminals and studied its retrograde transport along the axon with and without the p75NTR receptor. First, we found that NGF, an endogenous p75NTR ligand, and RABV, are localized in corresponding domains along nerve tips. RABV and NGF were internalized at similar time frames, suggesting comparable entry machineries. Next, we demonstrated that RABV could internalize together with p75NTR. Characterizing RABV retrograde movement along the axon, we showed the virus is transported in acidic compartments, mostly with p75NTR. Interestingly, RABV is transported faster than NGF, suggesting that RABV not only hijacks the transport machinery but can also manipulate it. Co-transport of RABV and NGF identified two modes of transport, slow and fast, that may represent a differential control of the trafficking machinery by RABV. Finally, we determined that p75NTR-dependent transport of RABV is faster and more directed than p75NTR-independent RABV transport. This fast route to the neuronal cell body is characterized by both an increase in instantaneous velocities and fewer, shorter stops en route. Hence, RABV may employ p75NTR-dependent transport as a fast mechanism to facilitate movement to the CNS.
Author Summary
Rabies virus (RABV) is a neurotropic virus that depends on long distance axonal transport in order to reach the central nervous system (CNS). The strategy RABV uses to hijack the cellular transport machinery is unknown. Here we use live cell imaging to track RABV entry at nerve terminals and study its retrograde transport along the axon. First, we demonstrate that RABV interacts with the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) at peripheral neuron tips to enter the axon. Then, characterizing RABV retrograde transport along the axon, we showed that the virus moves in acidic compartments, mostly with p75NTR. Interestingly, RABV is transported faster than NGF, an endogenous p75NTR ligand. Finally, we determine that p75NTR-dependent transport of RABV is faster and more directed than p75NTR-independent RABV transport. Hence, RABV not only exploits the neurotrophin transport machinery, but also has a positive influence on transport kinetics, thus facilitating its own arrival at the CNS.
PMCID: PMC4148448  PMID: 25165859
6.  Comparative studies on the genetic, antigenic and pathogenic characteristics of Bokeloh bat lyssavirus 
The Journal of General Virology  2014;95(Pt 8):1647-1653.
Bokeloh bat lyssavirus (BBLV), a novel lyssavirus, was isolated from a Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattererii), a chiropteran species with a widespread and abundant distribution across Europe. As a novel lyssavirus, the risks of BBLV to animal and human health are unknown and as such characterization both in vitro and in vivo was required to assess pathogenicity and vaccine protection. Full genome sequence analysis and antigenic cartography demonstrated that the German BBLV isolates are most closely related to European bat lyssavirus type 2 (EBLV-2) and Khujand virus and can be characterized within phylogroup I. In vivo characterization demonstrated that BBLV was pathogenic in mice when inoculated peripherally causing clinical signs typical for rabies encephalitis, with higher pathogenicity observed in juvenile mice. A limited vaccination-challenge experiment in mice was conducted and suggested that current vaccines would afford some protection against BBLV although further studies are warranted to determine a serological cut-off for protection.
PMCID: PMC4103065  PMID: 24828330
7.  ANP32B Is a Nuclear Target of Henipavirus M Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97233.
Membrane envelopment and budding of negative strand RNA viruses (NSVs) is mainly driven by viral matrix proteins (M). In addition, several M proteins are also known to be involved in host cell manipulation. Knowledge about the cellular targets and detailed molecular mechanisms, however, is poor for many M proteins. For instance, Nipah Virus (NiV) M protein trafficking through the nucleus is essential for virus release, but nuclear targets of NiV M remain unknown. To identify cellular interactors of henipavirus M proteins, tagged Hendra Virus (HeV) M proteins were expressed and M-containing protein complexes were isolated and analysed. Presence of acidic leucine-rich nuclear phosphoprotein 32 family member B (ANP32B) in the complex suggested that this protein represents a direct or indirect interactor of the viral matrix protein. Over-expression of ANP32B led to specific nuclear accumulation of HeV M, providing a functional link between ANP32B and M protein. ANP32B-dependent nuclear accumulation was observed after plasmid-driven expression of HeV and NiV matrix proteins and also in NiV infected cells. The latter indicated that an interaction of henipavirus M protein with ANP32B also occurs in the context of virus replication. From these data we conclude that ANP32B is a nuclear target of henipavirus M that may contribute to virus replication. Potential effects of ANP32B on HeV nuclear shuttling and host cell manipulation by HeV M affecting ANP32B functions in host cell survival and gene expression regulation are discussed.
PMCID: PMC4019565  PMID: 24823948
8.  Integrins modulate the infection efficiency of West Nile virus into cells 
The Journal of General Virology  2013;94(Pt 8):1723-1733.
The underlying mechanisms allowing West Nile virus (WNV) to replicate in a large variety of different arthropod, bird and mammal species are largely unknown but are believed to rely on highly conserved proteins relevant for viral entry and replication. Consistent with this, the integrin αvβ3 has been proposed lately to function as the cellular receptor for WNV. More recently published data, however, are not in line with this concept. Integrins are highly conserved among diverse taxa and are expressed by almost every cell type at high numbers. Our study was designed to clarify the involvement of integrins in WNV infection of cells. A cell culture model, based on wild-type and specific integrin knockout cell lines lacking the integrin subunits αv, β1 or β3, was used to investigate the susceptibility to WNV, and to evaluate binding and replication efficiencies of four distinct strains (New York 1999, Uganda 1937, Sarafend and Dakar). Though all cell lines were permissive, clear differences in replication efficiencies were observed. Rescue of the β3-integrin subunit resulted in enhanced WNV yields of up to 90 %, regardless of the virus strain used. Similar results were obtained for β1-expressing and non-expressing cells. Binding, however, was not affected by the expression of the integrins in question, and integrin blocking antibodies failed to have any effect. We conclude that integrins are involved in WNV infection but not at the level of binding to target cells.
PMCID: PMC3749529  PMID: 23658209
9.  Immunogenicity Studies in Carnivores Using a Rabies Virus Construct with a Site-Directed Deletion in the Phosphoprotein 
Different approaches have been applied to develop highly attenuated rabies virus vaccines for oral vaccination of mesocarnivores. One prototype vaccine construct is SAD dIND1, which contains a deletion in the P-gene severely limiting the inhibition of type-1 interferon induction. Immunogenicity studies in foxes and skunks were undertaken to investigate whether this highly attenuated vaccine would be more immunogenic than the parental SAD B19 vaccine strain. In foxes, it was demonstrated that SAD dIND1 protected the animals against a rabies infection after a single oral dose, although virus neutralizing antibody titres were lower than in foxes orally vaccinated with the SAD B19 virus as observed in previous experiments. In contrast, skunks receiving 107.5 FFU SAD dIND1 did not develop virus neutralizing antibodies and were not protected against a subsequent rabies infection.
PMCID: PMC3177460  PMID: 21991446
10.  Novel Lyssavirus in Natterer’s Bat, Germany 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2011;17(8):1519-1522.
A virus isolated from a Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattererii) in Germany was differentiated from other lyssaviruses on the basis of the reaction pattern of a panel of monoclonal antibodies. Phylogenetic analysis supported the assumption that the isolated virus, Bokeloh bat lyssavirus, may represent a new member of the genus Lyssavirus.
PMCID: PMC3381583  PMID: 21801640
rabies; bats; lyssavirus; Natterer’s bat; Myotis nattereri; sequence analysis; zoonosis; Germany; viruses; dispatch
11.  Intergenotypic Replacement of Lyssavirus Matrix Proteins Demonstrates the Role of Lyssavirus M Proteins in Intracellular Virus Accumulation ▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(4):1816-1827.
Lyssavirus assembly depends on the matrix protein (M). We compared lyssavirus M proteins from different genotypes for their ability to support assembly and egress of genotype 1 rabies virus (RABV). Transcomplementation of M-deficient RABV with M from European bat lyssavirus (EBLV) types 1 and 2 reduced the release of infectious virus. Stable introduction of the heterogenotypic M proteins into RABV led to chimeric viruses with reduced virus release and intracellular accumulation of virus genomes. Although the chimeras indicated genotype-specific evolution of M, rapid selection of a compensatory mutant suggested conserved mechanisms of lyssavirus assembly and the requirement for only few adaptive mutations to fit the heterogenotypic M to a RABV backbone. Whereas the compensatory mutant replicated to similar infectious titers as RABV M-expressing virus, ultrastructural analysis revealed that both nonadapted EBLV M chimeras and the compensatory mutant differed from RABV M expressing viruses in the lack of intracellular viruslike structures that are enveloped and accumulate in cisterna of the degranulated and dilated rough endoplasmic reticulum compartment. Moreover, all viruses were able to bud at the plasma membrane. Since the lack of the intracellular viruslike structures correlated with the type of M protein but not with the efficiency of virus release, we hypothesize that the M proteins of EBLV-1 and RABV differ in their target membranes for virus assembly. Although the biological function of intracellular assembly and accumulation of viruslike structures in the endoplasmic reticulum remain unclear, the observed differences could contribute to diverse host tropism or pathogenicity.
PMCID: PMC2812392  PMID: 19955305
12.  Retrograde neuronal tracing with a deletion-mutant rabies virus 
Nature methods  2006;4(1):47-49.
We have constructed a deletion-mutant rabies virus encoding EGFP and find it to be an excellent tool for studying detailed morphology and physiology of neurons projecting to injection sites within the mammalian brain. The virus cannot spread beyond initially infected cells yet, unlike other viral vectors, replicates its core within them. The cells therefore fluoresce intensely, revealing fine dendritic and axonal structure with no background from partially or faintly labeled cells.
PMCID: PMC2755236  PMID: 17179932
13.  Attenuation of Rabies Virus Replication and Virulence by Picornavirus Internal Ribosome Entry Site Elements▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;83(4):1911-1919.
Gene expression of nonsegmented negative-strand RNA viruses is regulated at the transcriptional level and relies on the canonical 5′-end-dependent translation of capped viral mRNAs. Here, we have used internal ribosome entry sites (IRES) from picornaviruses to control the expression level of the phosphoprotein P of the neurotropic rabies virus (RV; Rhabdoviridae), which is critically required for both viral replication and escape from the host interferon response. In a dual luciferase reporter RV, the IRES elements of poliovirus (PV) and human rhinovirus type 2 (HRV2) were active in a variety of cell lines from different host species. While a generally lower activity of the HRV2 IRES was apparent compared to the PV IRES, specific deficits of the HRV2 IRES in neuronal cell lines were not observed. Recombinant RVs expressing P exclusively from a bicistronic nucleoprotein (N)-IRES-P mRNA showed IRES-specific reduction of replication in cell culture and in neurons of organotypic brain slice cultures, an increased activation of the beta interferon (IFN-β) promoter, and increased sensitivity to IFN. Intracerebral infection revealed a complete loss of virulence of both PV- and HRV2 IRES-controlled RV for wild-type mice and for transgenic mice lacking a functional IFN-α receptor (IFNAR−/−). The virulence of HRV2 IRES-controlled RV was most severely attenuated and could be demonstrated only in newborn IFNAR−/− mice. Translational control of individual genes is a promising strategy to attenuate replication and virulence of live nonsegmented negative-strand RNA viruses and vectors and to study the function of IRES elements in detail.
PMCID: PMC2643788  PMID: 19073737
14.  Monosynaptic Restriction of Transsynaptic Tracing from Single, Genetically Targeted Neurons 
Neuron  2007;53(5):639-647.
There has never been a wholesale way of identifying neurons that are monosynaptically connected either to some other cell group or, especially, to a single cell. The best available tools, transsynaptic tracers, are unable to distinguish weak direct connections from strong indirect ones. Furthermore, no tracer has proven potent enough to label any connected neurons whatsoever when starting from a single cell. Here we present a transsynaptic tracer that crosses only one synaptic step, unambiguously identifying cells directly presynaptic to the starting population. Based on rabies virus, it is genetically targetable, allows high-level expression of any gene of interest in the synaptically coupled neurons, and robustly labels connections made to single cells. This technology should enable a far more detailed understanding of neural connectivity than has previously been possible.
PMCID: PMC2629495  PMID: 17329205
15.  Double-Labeled Rabies Virus: Live Tracking of Enveloped Virus Transport▿ †  
Journal of Virology  2007;82(1):237-245.
Here we describe a strategy to fluorescently label the envelope of rabies virus (RV), of the Rhabdoviridae family, in order to track the transport of single enveloped viruses in living cells. Red fluorescent proteins (tm-RFP) were engineered to comprise the N-terminal signal sequence and C-terminal transmembrane spanning and cytoplasmic domain sequences of the RV glycoprotein (G). Two variants of tm-RFP were transported to and anchored in the cell surface membrane, independent of glycosylation. As shown by confocal microscopy, tm-RFP colocalized at the cell surface with the RV matrix and G protein and was incorporated into G gene-deficient virus particles. Recombinant RV expressing the membrane-anchored tm-RFP in addition to G yielded infectious viruses with mosaic envelopes containing both tm-RFP and G. Viable double-labeled virus particles comprising a red fluorescent envelope and a green fluorescent ribonucleoprotein were generated by expressing in addition an enhanced green fluorescent protein-phosphoprotein fusion construct (S. Finke, K. Brzozka, and K. K. Conzelmann, J. Virol. 78:12333-12343, 2004). Individual enveloped virus particles were observed under live cell conditions as extracellular particles and inside endosomal vesicles. Importantly, double-labeled RVs were transported in the retrograde direction over long distances in neurites of in vitro-differentiated NS20Y neuroblastoma cells. This indicates that the typical retrograde axonal transport of RV to the central nervous system involves neuronal transport vesicles in which complete enveloped RV particles are carried as a cargo.
PMCID: PMC2224359  PMID: 17928343
16.  Inhibition of Interferon Signaling by Rabies Virus Phosphoprotein P: Activation-Dependent Binding of STAT1 and STAT2 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(6):2675-2683.
Rabies virus (RV) phosphoprotein P is an interferon (IFN) antagonist counteracting transcriptional activation of type I IFN (K. Brzózka, S. Finke, and K. K. Conzelmann, J. Virol 79:7673-7681, 2005). We here show that RV P in addition is responsible for preventing IFN-α/β- and IFN-γ-stimulated JAK-STAT signaling in RV-infected cells by the retention of activated STATs in the cytoplasm. Expression of IFN-stimulated response element- and gamma-activated sequence-controlled genes was severely impaired in cells infected with RV SAD L16 or in cells expressing RV P protein from transfected plasmids. In contrast, a recombinant RV expressing small amounts of P had lost the ability to interfere with JAK-STAT signaling. IFN-mediated tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT1 and STAT2 was not impaired in RV P-expressing cells; rather, a defect in STAT recycling was suggested by distinct accumulation of tyrosine-phosphorylated STATs in cell extracts. In the presence of P, activated STAT1 and STAT2 were unable to accumulate in the nucleus. Notably, STAT1 and STAT2 were coprecipitated with RV P only from extracts of cells previously stimulated with IFN-α or IFN-γ, whereas in nonstimulated cells no association of P with STATs was observed. This conditional, IFN activation-dependent binding of tyrosine-phosphorylated STATs by RV P is unique for a viral IFN antagonist. The 10 C-terminal residues of P are required for counteracting JAK-STAT signaling but not for inhibition of transcriptional activation of IFN-β, thus demonstrating two independent functions of RV P in counteracting the host's IFN response.
PMCID: PMC1395475  PMID: 16501077
17.  Green Fluorescent Protein-Tagged Adeno-Associated Virus Particles Allow the Study of Cytosolic and Nuclear Trafficking†  
Journal of Virology  2005;79(18):11776-11787.
To allow the direct visualization of viral trafficking, we genetically incorporated enhanced green fluorescent protein (GFP) into the adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsid by replacement of wild-type VP2 by GFP-VP2 fusion proteins. High-titer virus progeny was obtained and used to elucidate the process of nuclear entry. In the absence of adenovirus 5 (Ad5), nuclear translocation of AAV capsids was a slow and inefficient process: at 2 h and 4 h postinfection (p.i.), GFP-VP2-AAV particles were found in the perinuclear area and in nuclear invaginations but not within the nucleus. In Ad5-coinfected cells, isolated GFP-VP2-AAV particles were already detectable in the nucleus at 2 h p.i., suggesting that Ad5 enhanced the nuclear translocation of AAV capsids. The number of cells displaying viral capsids within the nucleus increased slightly over time, independently of helper virus levels, but the majority of the AAV capsids remained in the perinuclear area under all conditions analyzed. In contrast, independently of helper virus and with 10 times less virions per cell already observed at 2 h p.i., viral genomes were visible within the nucleus. Under these conditions and even with prolonged incubation times (up to 11 h p.i.), no intact viral capsids were detectable within the nucleus. In summary, the results show that GFP-tagged AAV particles can be used to study the cellular trafficking and nuclear entry of AAV. Moreover, our findings argue against an efficient nuclear entry mechanism of intact AAV capsids and favor the occurrence of viral uncoating before or during nuclear entry.
PMCID: PMC1212592  PMID: 16140755
18.  Identification of the Rabies Virus Alpha/Beta Interferon Antagonist: Phosphoprotein P Interferes with Phosphorylation of Interferon Regulatory Factor 3 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(12):7673-7681.
Rabies virus (RV) of the Rhabdoviridae family grows in alpha/beta interferon (IFN)-competent cells, suggesting the existence of viral mechanisms preventing IFN gene expression. We here identify the viral phosphoprotein P as the responsible IFN antagonist. The critical involvement of P was first suggested by the observation that an RV expressing an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP)-P fusion protein (SAD eGFP-P) (S. Finke, K. Brzózka, and K. K. Conzelmann, J. Virol. 78:12333-12343, 2004) was eliminated in IFN-competent HEp-2 cell cultures, in contrast to wild-type (wt) RV or an RV replicon lacking the genes for matrix protein and glycoprotein. SAD eGFP-P induced transcription of the IFN-β gene and expression of the IFN-responsive MxA and STAT-1 genes. Similarly, an RV expressing low levels of P, which was generated by moving the P gene to a promoter-distal gene position (SAD ΔPLP), lost the ability to prevent IFN induction. The analysis of RV mutants lacking expression of truncated P proteins P2, P3, or P4, which are expressed from internal AUG codons of the wt RV P open reading frame, further showed that full-length P is competent in suppressing IFN-β gene expression. In contrast to wt RV, the IFN-inducing SAD ΔPLP caused S386 phosphorylation, dimerization, and transcriptional activity of IFN regulatory factor 3 (IRF-3). Phosphorylation of IRF-3 by TANK-binding kinase-1 expressed from transfected plasmids was abolished in wt RV-infected cells or by cotransfection of P-encoding plasmids. Thus, RV P is necessary and sufficient to prevent a critical IFN response in virus-infected cells by targeting activation of IRF-3 by an upstream kinase.
PMCID: PMC1143667  PMID: 15919920
19.  Inhibition of Toll-Like Receptor 7- and 9-Mediated Alpha/Beta Interferon Production in Human Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cells by Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Measles Virus 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(9):5507-5515.
Human plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDC) are key sentinels alerting both innate and adaptive immune responses through production of huge amounts of alpha/beta interferon (IFN). IFN induction in PDC is triggered by outside-in signal transduction pathways through Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) and TLR9 as well as by recognition of cytosolic virus-specific patterns. TLR7 and TLR9 ligands include single-stranded RNA and CpG-rich DNA, respectively, as well as synthetic derivatives thereof which are being evaluated as therapeutic immune modulators promoting Th1 immune responses. Here, we identify the first viruses able to block IFN production by PDC. Both TLR-dependent and -independent IFN responses are abolished in human PDC infected with clinical isolates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), RSV strain A2, and measles virus Schwarz, in contrast to RSV strain Long, which we previously identified as a potent IFN inducer in human PDC (Hornung et al., J. Immunol. 173:5935-5943, 2004). Notably, IFN synthesis of PDC activated by the TLR7 and TLR9 agonists resiquimod (R848) and CpG oligodeoxynucleotide 2216 is switched off by subsequent infection by RSV A2 and measles virus. The capacity of RSV and measles virus of human PDC to shut down IFN production should contribute to the characteristic features of these viruses, such as Th2-biased immune pathology, immune suppression, and superinfection.
PMCID: PMC1082779  PMID: 15827165
20.  Tracking Fluorescence-Labeled Rabies Virus: Enhanced Green Fluorescent Protein-Tagged Phosphoprotein P Supports Virus Gene Expression and Formation of Infectious Particles 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(22):12333-12343.
Rhabdoviruses such as rabies virus (RV) encode only five multifunctional proteins accomplishing viral gene expression and virus formation. The viral phosphoprotein, P, is a structural component of the viral ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex and an essential cofactor for the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. We show here that RV P fused to enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) can substitute for P throughout the viral life cycle, allowing fluorescence labeling and tracking of RV RNPs under live cell conditions. To first assess the functions of P fusion constructs, a recombinant RV lacking the P gene, SAD ΔP, was complemented in cell lines constitutively expressing eGFP-P or P-eGFP fusion proteins. P-eGFP supported the rapid accumulation of viral mRNAs but led to low infectious-virus titers, suggesting impairment of virus formation. In contrast, complementation with eGFP-P resulted in slower accumulation of mRNAs but similar infectious titers, suggesting interference with polymerase activity rather than with virus formation. Fluorescence microscopy allowed the detection of eGFP-P-labeled extracellular virus particles and tracking of cell binding and temperature-dependent internalization into intracellular vesicles. Recombinant RVs expressing eGFP-P or an eGFP-P mutant lacking the binding site for dynein light chain 1 (DLC1) instead of P were used to track interaction with cellular proteins. In cells expressing a DsRed-labeled DLC1, colocalization of DLC1 with eGFP-P but not with the mutant P was observed. Fluorescent labeling of RV RNPs will allow further dissection of virus entry, replication, and egress under live-cell conditions as well as cell interactions.
PMCID: PMC525074  PMID: 15507620
21.  Dissociation of Rabies Virus Matrix Protein Functions in Regulation of Viral RNA Synthesis and Virus Assembly 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(22):12074-12082.
Recently, we have shown that the rabies virus (RV) matrix (M) protein regulates the balance of virus RNA synthesis by shifting synthesis activity from transcription to replication (S. Finke, R. Mueller-Waldeck, and K. K. Conzelmann, J. Gen. Virol. 84:1613-1621, 2003). Here we describe the identification of an M residue critical for regulation of RV RNA synthesis. By analyzing the phenotype of heterotypic RV M proteins with respect to RNA synthesis of RV SAD L16, we identified the M proteins of the RV ERA and PV strains as deficient. Comparison of M sequences suggested that a single residue, arginine 58, was critical. A recombinant virus having this amino acid exchanged with a glycine, SAD M(R58G), has lost the abilities to downregulate RV transcription and to stimulate replication. This resulted in an increase in the transcription rate of more than 15-fold, as previously observed for M deletion mutants. Most importantly, the efficiencies of virus assembly and budding were equal for wild-type M and M(R58G), as determined in assays studying the transient complementation of an M- and G-deficient RV construct, NPgrL. In addition, virus particle density, protein composition, and specific infectivity of SAD L16 and SAD M(R58G) viruses were identical. Thus, we have identified mutations that affect the function of M only in regulation of RNA synthesis, but not in assembly and budding, providing evidence that these functions are genetically separable.
PMCID: PMC254266  PMID: 14581544
22.  Differential Transcription Attenuation of Rabies Virus Genes by Intergenic Regions: Generation of Recombinant Viruses Overexpressing the Polymerase Gene 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(16):7261-7269.
Gene expression of nonsegmented negative-sense RNA viruses involves sequential synthesis of monocistronic mRNAs and transcriptional attenuation at gene borders resulting in a transcript gradient. To address the role of the heterogeneous rabies virus (RV) intergenic regions (IGRs) in transcription attenuation, we constructed bicistronic model RNAs in which two reporter genes are separated by the RV N/P gene border. Replacement of the 2-nucleotide (nt) N/P IGR with the 5-nt IGRs from the P/M or M/G border resulted in attenuation of downstream gene transcription to 78 or 81%, respectively. A severe attenuation to 11% was observed for the 24-nt G/L border. This indicated that attenuation in RV is correlated with the length of the IGR, and, in particular, severe downregulation of the L (polymerase) gene by the 24 nt IGR. By reverse genetics, we recovered viable RVs in which the strongly attenuating G/L gene border of wild-type (wt) RV (SAD L16) was replaced with N/P-derived gene borders (SAD T and SAD T2). In these viruses, transcription of L mRNA was enhanced by factors of 1.8 and 5.1, respectively, resulting in exaggerated general gene expression, faster growth, higher virus titers, and induction of cytopathic effects in cell culture. The major role of the IGR in attenuation was further confirmed by reintroduction of the wt 24-nt IGR into SAD T, resulting in a ninefold drop of L mRNA. The ability to modulate RV gene expression by altering transcriptional attenuation is an advantage in the study of virus protein functions and in the development of gene delivery vectors.
PMCID: PMC112247  PMID: 10906180
23.  Virus Promoters Determine Interference by Defective RNAs: Selective Amplification of Mini-RNA Vectors and Rescue from cDNA by a 3′ Copy-Back Ambisense Rabies Virus 
Journal of Virology  1999;73(5):3818-3825.
Typical defective interfering (DI) RNAs are more successful in the competition for viral polymerase than the parental (helper) virus, which is mostly due to an altered DI promoter composition. Rabies virus (RV) internal deletion RNAs which possess the authentic RV terminal promoters, and which therefore are transcriptionally active and can be used as vectors for foreign gene expression, are poorly propagated in RV-infected cells and do not interfere with RV replication. To allow DI-like amplification and high-level gene expression from such mini-RNA vectors, we have used an engineered 3′ copy-back (ambisense) helper RV in which the strong replication promoter of the antigenome was replaced with the 50-fold-weaker genome promoter. In cells coinfected with ambisense helper virus and mini-RNAs encoding chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) and luciferase, mini-RNAs were amplified to high levels. This was correlated with interference with helper virus replication, finally resulting in a clear predominance of mini-RNAs over helper virus. However, efficient successive passaging of mini-RNAs and high-level reporter gene activity could be achieved without adding exogenous helper virus, revealing a rather moderate degree of interference not precluding substantial HV propagation. Compared to infections with recombinant RV vectors expressing CAT, the availability of abundant mini-RNA templates led to increased levels of CAT mRNA such that CAT activities were augmented up to 250-fold, while virus gene transcription was kept to a minimum. We have also exploited the finding that internal deletion model RNAs behave like DI RNAs and are selectively amplified in the presence of ambisense helper virus to demonstrate for the first time RV-supported rescue of cDNA after transfection of mini-RNA cDNAs in ambisense RV-infected cells expressing T7 RNA polymerase.
PMCID: PMC104159  PMID: 10196276
24.  Generation of Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV) from cDNA: BRSV NS2 Is Not Essential for Virus Replication in Tissue Culture, and the Human RSV Leader Region Acts as a Functional BRSV Genome Promoter 
Journal of Virology  1999;73(1):251-259.
In order to generate recombinant bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), the genome of BRSV strain A51908, variant ATue51908, was cloned as cDNA. We provide here the sequence of the BRSV genome ends and of the entire L gene. This completes the sequence of the BRSV genome, which comprises a total of 15,140 nucleotides. To establish a vaccinia virus-free recovery system, a BHK-derived cell line stably expressing T7 RNA polymerase was generated (BSR T7/5). Recombinant BRSV was reproducibly recovered from cDNA constructs after T7 RNA polymerase-driven expression of antigenome sense RNA and of BRSV N, P, M2, and L proteins from transfected plasmids. Chimeric viruses in which the BRSV leader region was replaced by the human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) leader region replicated in cell culture as efficiently as their nonchimeric counterparts, demonstrating that all cis-acting sequences of the HRSV promoter are faithfully recognized by the BRSV polymerase complex. In addition, we report the successful recovery of a BRSV mutant lacking the complete NS2 gene, which encodes a nonstructural protein of unknown function. The NS2-deficient BRSV replicated autonomously and could be passaged, demonstrating that NS2 is not essential for virus replication in cell culture. However, growth of the mutant was considerably slower than and final infectious titers were reduced by a factor of at least 10 compared to wild-type BRSV, indicating that NS2 provides a supporting factor required for full replication capacity.
PMCID: PMC103829  PMID: 9847328

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