The V proteins of paramyxoviruses control the innate immune response. In particular, the V protein of the genus Morbillivirus interferes with the signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1), STAT2, and melanoma differentiation-associated protein 5 (mda5) signaling pathways. To characterize the contributions of these pathways to canine distemper virus (CDV) pathogenesis, we took advantage of the knowledge about the mechanisms of interaction between the measles virus V protein with these key regulators of innate immunity. We generated recombinant CDVs with V proteins unable to properly interact with STAT1, STAT2, or mda5. A virus with combined STAT2 and mda5 deficiencies was also generated, and available wild-type and V-protein-knockout viruses were used as controls. Ferrets infected with wild-type and STAT1-blind viruses developed severe leukopenia and loss of lymphocyte proliferation activity and succumbed to the disease within 14 days. In contrast, animals infected with viruses with STAT2 or mda5 defect or both STAT2 and mda5 defects developed a mild self-limiting disease similar to that associated with the V-knockout virus. This study demonstrates the importance of interference with STAT2 and mda5 signaling for CDV immune evasion and provides a starting point for the development of morbillivirus vectors with reduced immunosuppressive properties.
IMPORTANCE The V proteins of paramyxoviruses interfere with the recognition of the virus by the immune system of the host. For morbilliviruses, the V protein is known to interact with the signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1) and STAT2 and the melanoma differentiation-associated protein 5 (mda5), which are involved in interferon signaling. Here, we examined the contribution of each of these signaling pathways to the pathogenesis of the carnivore morbillivirus canine distemper virus. Using viruses selectively unable to interfere with the respective signaling pathway to infect ferrets, we found that inhibition of STAT2 and mda5 signaling was critical for lethal disease. Our findings provide new insights in the mechanisms of morbillivirus immune evasion and may lead to the development of new vaccines and oncolytic vectors.
In the context of viral infections, autophagy induction can be beneficial or inhibitory. Within the Paramyxoviridae family, only morbilliviruses have been investigated and are reported to induce autophagy. Here we show that morbilliviruses rapidly induce autophagy and require this induction for efficient cell-to-cell spread. Coexpression of both glycoproteins in cells expressing one of the cellular receptors was required for autophagy induction, and LC3 punctum formation, indicative of autophagy, was mainly observed in syncytia. A similar correlation between syncytium formation and autophagy induction was also observed for other paramyxovirus glycoproteins, suggesting that membrane fusion-mediated autophagy may be common among paramyxoviruses and possibly other enveloped viruses.
To characterize the importance of infection of epithelial cells for morbillivirus pathogenesis, we took advantage of the severe disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV) in ferrets. To obtain a CDV that was unable to enter epithelial cells but retained the ability to enter immune cells, we transferred to its attachment (H) protein two mutations shown to interfere with the interaction of measles virus H with its epithelial receptor, human nectin-4. As expected for an epithelial receptor (EpR)-blind CDV, this virus infected dog and ferret epithelial cells inefficiently and did not cause cell fusion or syncytium formation. On the other hand, the EpR-blind CDV replicated in cells expressing canine signaling lymphocyte activation molecule (SLAM), the morbillivirus immune cell receptor, with similar kinetics to those of wild-type CDV. While ferrets infected with wild-type CDV died within 12 days after infection, after developing severe rash and fever, animals infected with the EpR-blind virus showed no clinical signs of disease. Nevertheless, both viruses spread rapidly and efficiently in immune cells, causing similar levels of leukopenia and inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation activity, two indicators of morbillivirus immunosuppression. Infection was documented for airway epithelia of ferrets infected with wild-type CDV but not for those of animals infected with the EpR-blind virus, and only animals infected with wild-type CDV shed virus. Thus, epithelial cell infection is necessary for clinical disease and efficient virus shedding but not for immunosuppression.
In the context of infections with highly pathogenic influenza A viruses, the PB1-F2 protein contributes to virulence and enhances lung inflammation. In contrast, its role in the pathogenesis of seasonal influenza viral strains is less clear, especially in the H1N1 subtype, where strains can have a full-length 87- to 90-amino-acid protein, a truncated 57-amino-acid version, or lack the protein altogether. Toward this, we introduced the full-length 1918 PB1-F2, or prevented PB1-F2 expression, in H1N1 A/USSR/90/77, a seasonal strain that naturally expresses a truncated PB1-F2. All viruses replicated with similar efficiency in ferret or macaque ex vivo lung cultures and elicited similar cytokine mRNA profiles. In contrast, the virus expressing the 1918 PB1-F2 protein caused a delay of proinflammatory responses in ferret blood-derived macrophages, while the PB1-F2 knockout virus resulted in a more rapid response. A similar but less pronounced delay in innate immune activation was also observed in the nasal wash cells of ferrets infected with the 1918 PB1-F2-expressing virus. However, the three viruses did not differ in their virulence or clinical course in ferrets, supporting speculations that PB1-F2 is of limited importance for the pathogenesis of primary viral infection with human seasonal H1N1 viruses.
Measles virus (MeV) is a highly infectious morbillivirus responsible for major human morbidity and mortality in the non-vaccinated. The related, zoonotic canine distemper virus (CDV) induces morbillivirus disease in ferrets with 100% lethality. We report an orally available, shelf-stable pan-morbillivirus inhibitor that targets the viral polymerase. Prophylactic oral treatment of ferrets infected intranasally with a lethal CDV dose reduced viremia and prolonged survival. Equally infected ferrets receiving post-infection treatment at the onset of viremia showed low-grade viral loads, remained asymptomatic and recovered from infection, while control animals succumbed to the disease. Recovered animals also mounted a robust immune response and were protected against re-challenge with a lethal CDV dose. Drug-resistant viral recombinants were generated and found attenuated and transmission impaired compared to the genetic parent. These findings pioneer a path towards an effective morbillivirus therapy that aids measles eradication by synergizing vaccine and therapeutics to close herd immunity gaps due to vaccine refusal.
Influenza pandemics can spread quickly and cost millions of lives; the 2009 H1N1 pandemic highlighted the shortfall in the current vaccine strategy and the need for an improved global response in terms of shortening the time required to manufacture the vaccine and increasing production capacity. Here we describe the pre-clinical assessment of a novel 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza vaccine based on the E. coli-produced HA globular head domain covalently linked to virus-like particles derived from the bacteriophage Qβ. When formulated with alum adjuvant and used to immunize mice, dose finding studies found that a 10 µg dose of this vaccine (3.7 µg globular HA content) induced antibody titers comparable to a 1.5 µg dose (0.7 µg globular HA content) of the licensed 2009 H1N1 pandemic vaccine Panvax, and significantly reduced viral titers in the lung following challenge with 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza A/California/07/2009 virus. While Panvax failed to induce marked T cell responses, the novel vaccine stimulated substantial antigen-specific interferon-γ production in splenocytes from immunized mice, alongside enhanced IgG2a antibody production. In ferrets the vaccine elicited neutralizing antibodies, and following challenge with influenza A/California/07/2009 virus reduced morbidity and lowered viral titers in nasal lavages.
After the contagion measles virus (MV) crosses the respiratory epithelium within myeloid cells that express the primary receptor signaling lymphocytic activation molecule (SLAM), it replicates briskly in SLAM-expressing cells in lymphatic organs. Later, the infection spreads to epithelia expressing nectin-4, an adherens junction protein expressed preferentially in the trachea, but how it gets there is not understood. To characterize the mechanisms of spread, we infected groups of 5 or 6 cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) with either a wild-type MV or its “N4-blind” derivative, which is unable to enter nectin-4-expressing cells because of the targeted mutation of two hemagglutinin residues. As expected, both viruses caused similar levels of immunosuppression, as monitored by reductions in white blood cell counts and lymphocyte proliferation activity. However, monkeys infected with the N4-blind MV cleared infection more rapidly. Wild-type virus-infected monkeys secreted virus, while marginal virus titers were detected in tracheal lavage fluid cells of N4-blind MV-infected hosts. Analyses of tracheal rings obtained at necropsy (day 12) documented widespread infection of individual cells or small cell clusters in the subepithelial lamina propria of monkeys infected with either virus. However, only wild-type MV spread to the epithelium, forming numerous infectious centers comprised of many contiguous columnar cells. Infected CD11c+ myeloid (macrophage or dendritic) cells were frequently observed in the lamina propria below epithelial infectious centers. Thus, MV may use myeloid cells as vehicles not only immediately after contagion but also to infect epithelia of tissues expressing nectin-4, including the trachea.
Influenza A virus (IAV) triggers a contagious and potentially lethal respiratory disease. A protective IL-1β response is mediated by innate receptors in macrophages and lung epithelial cells. NLRP3 is crucial in macrophages; however, which sensors elicit IL-1β secretion in lung epithelial cells remains undetermined. Here, we describe for the first time the relative roles of the host innate receptors RIG-I (DDX58), TLR3, and NLRP3 in the IL-1β response to IAV in primary lung epithelial cells. To activate IL-1β secretion, these cells employ partially redundant recognition mechanisms that differ from those described in macrophages. RIG-I had the strongest effect through a MAVS/TRIM25/Riplet–dependent type I IFN signaling pathway upstream of TLR3 and NLRP3. Notably, RIG-I also activated the inflammasome through interaction with caspase 1 and ASC in primary lung epithelial cells. Thus, NS1, an influenza virulence factor that inhibits the RIG-I/type I IFN pathway, strongly modulated the IL-1β response in lung epithelial cells and in ferrets. The NS1 protein derived from a highly pathogenic strain resulted in increased interaction with RIG-I and inhibited type I IFN and IL-1β responses compared to the least pathogenic virus strains. These findings demonstrate that in IAV-infected lung epithelial cells RIG-I activates the inflammasome both directly and through a type I IFN positive feedback loop.
Although epithelial cells lining our respiratory tract are both the primary targets of influenza A virus (IAV) infection and major players in the outcome of this infection, we still have an imperfect understanding of their response to the virus. Such knowledge is important to design proper anti-influenza strategies. Here, we discovered that epithelial cells sense and respond to IAV infection quite differently than macrophages. While the pathogen recognition receptor (PRR) NLRP3 is crucial in macrophages, we show that IAV infection of primary respiratory epithelial cells triggers IL-1β secretion, which depends not only on NLRP3 but also on two other PRRs, RIG-I and TLR3. In the IL-1β production pathway, RIG-I occupies the most upstream position; it does so directly, through the formation of a RIG-I/ASC inflammasome, and indirectly, through the up-regulation of these three PRRs via a type I IFN positive feedback loop. Further, the increased virulence of IAV in a ferret infection model implicated NS1, a virus protein that targets RIG-I, decreasing both type I IFN and IL-1β secretion in epithelial cells. These results improve our understanding of the tissue-specificity of RIG-I antiviral mechanisms involving type I IFN and IL-1β, and suggest the use of RIG-I agonists in anti-viral therapy or as vaccine adjuvants.
Theoretically, homogeneous environments favor the evolution of specialists whereas heterogeneous environments favor generalists. Canine distemper is a multi-host carnivore disease caused by canine distemper virus (CDV). The described cell receptor of CDV is SLAM (CD150). Attachment of CDV hemagglutinin protein (CDV-H) to this receptor facilitates fusion and virus entry in cooperation with the fusion protein (CDV-F). We investigated whether CDV strains co-evolved in the large, homogeneous domestic dog population exhibited specialist traits, and strains adapted to the heterogeneous environment of smaller populations of different carnivores exhibited generalist traits. Comparison of amino acid sequences of the SLAM binding region revealed higher similarity between sequences from Canidae species than to sequences from other carnivore families. Using an in vitro assay, we quantified syncytia formation mediated by CDV-H proteins from dog and non-dog CDV strains in cells expressing dog, lion or cat SLAM. CDV-H proteins from dog strains produced significantly higher values with cells expressing dog SLAM than with cells expressing lion or cat SLAM. CDV-H proteins from strains of non-dog species produced similar values in all three cell types, but lower values in cells expressing dog SLAM than the values obtained for CDV-H proteins from dog strains. By experimentally changing one amino acid (Y549H) in the CDV-H protein of one dog strain we decreased expression of specialist traits and increased expression of generalist traits, thereby confirming its functional importance. A virus titer assay demonstrated that dog strains produced higher titers in cells expressing dog SLAM than cells expressing SLAM of non-dog hosts, which suggested possible fitness benefits of specialization post-cell entry. We provide in vitro evidence for the expression of specialist and generalist traits by CDV strains, and fitness trade-offs across carnivore host environments caused by antagonistic pleiotropy. These findings extend knowledge on CDV molecular epidemiology of particular relevance to wild carnivores.
A rodent or other small animal model for HIV-1 has not been forthcoming, with the principal obstacles being species-specific restriction mechanisms and deficits in HIV-1 dependency factors. Some Carnivorans may harbor comparatively fewer impediments. For example, in contrast to mice, the domestic cat genome encodes essential nonreceptor HIV-1 dependency factors. All Feliformia species and at least one Caniformia species also lack a major lentiviral restriction mechanism (TRIM5α/TRIMCyp proteins). Here we investigated cells from two species in another carnivore family, the Mustelidae, for permissiveness to the HIV-1 life cycle. Mustela putorius furo (domesticated ferret) primary cells and cell lines did not restrict HIV-1, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV), or N-tropic murine leukemia virus (MLV) postentry and supported late HIV-1 life cycle steps comparably to human cells. The ferret TRIM5α gene exon 8, which encodes the B30.2 domain, was found to be pseudogenized. Strikingly, ferret (but not mink) cells engineered to express human HIV-1 entry receptors supported productive spreading replication, amplification, and serial passage of wild-type HIV-1. Nevertheless, produced virions had relatively reduced infectivity and the virus accrued G→A hypermutations, consistent with APOBEC3 protein pressure. Ferret cell-passaged HIV-1 also evolved amino acid changes in the capsid cyclophilin A binding loop. We conclude that the genome of this carnivore can provide essential nonreceptor HIV-1 dependency factors and that ferret APOBEC3 proteins with activity against HIV-1 are likely. Even so, unlike in cat cells, HIV-1 can replicate in ferret cells without vif substitution. The virus evolves in this novel nonprimate cell adaptive landscape. We suggest that further characterization of HIV-1 adaptation in ferret cells and delineation of Mustelidae restriction factor repertoires are warranted, with a view to the potential for an HIV-1 animal model.
Measles (MV) is an aerosol-transmitted virus that affects more than 10 million children each year and accounts for approximately 120,000 deaths1,2. While it was long believed to replicate in the respiratory epithelium before disseminating, it was recently shown to initially infect macrophages and dendritic cells of the airways using the signaling lymphocytic activation molecule (SLAM, CD150) as receptor3-6. These cells then cross the respiratory epithelium and ferry the infection to lymphatic organs where MV replicates vigorously7. How and where the virus crosses back into the airways has remained unknown. Based on functional analyses of surface proteins preferentially expressed on virus-permissive epithelial cell lines, we identified nectin-48 (poliovirus-receptor-like-4) as a candidate host exit receptor. This adherens junction protein of the immunoglobulin superfamily interacts with the viral attachment protein with high affinity through its membrane-distal domain. Nectin-4 sustains MV entry and non-cytopathic lateral spread in well-differentiated primary human airway epithelial sheets infected basolaterally. It is down-regulated in infected epithelial cells, including those of macaque tracheas. While other viruses use receptors to enter hosts or transit through their epithelial barriers, we suggest that MV targets nectin-4 to emerge in the airways. Nectin-4 is a cellular marker of several types of cancer9-11, which has implications for ongoing MV-based clinical trials of oncolysis12.
Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a negative-sense, single-stranded RNA virus within the genus Morbillivirus and the family Paramyxoviridae. The Morbillivirus genome is composed of six transcriptional units that are separated by untranslated regions (UTRs), which are relatively uniform in length, with the exception of the UTR between the matrix (M) and fusion (F) genes. This UTR is at least three times longer and in the case of CDV also highly variable. Exchange of the M-F region between different CDV strains did not affect virulence or disease phenotype, demonstrating that this region is functionally interchangeable. Viruses carrying the deletions in the M 3′ UTR replicated more efficiently, which correlated with a reduction of virulence, suggesting that overall length as well as specific sequence motifs distributed throughout the region contribute to virulence.
In paramyxoviruses, the matrix (M) protein mediates the interaction between the envelope and internal proteins during particle assembly and egress. In measles virus (MeV), M mutations, such as those found in subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) strains, and differences in vaccine and wild-type M proteins can affect the strength of interaction with the envelope glycoproteins, assembly efficiency, and spread. However, the contribution of the M protein to the replication and pathogenesis of the closely related canine distemper virus (CDV) has not been characterized. To this end this, we generated a recombinant wild-type CDV carrying a vaccine strain M protein. The recombinant virus retained the parental growth phenotype in VerodogSLAMtag cells, but displayed an increased particle-to-infectivity ratio very similar to that of the vaccine strain, likely due to inefficient H protein incorporation. Even though infectious virus was released only from the apical surface, consistent with the release polarity of the wild-type CDV strain, envelope protein distribution in polarized epithelial cells reproduced the bipolar pattern seen in vaccine strain-infected cells. Most notably, the chimeric virus was completely attenuated in ferrets and caused only a mild and transient leukopenia, indicating that the differences in particle infectivity and envelope protein sorting mediated by the vaccine M protein contribute importantly to vaccine strain attenuation.
Influenza A virus seasonal outbreaks and occasional pandemics represent a global health threat. The high genetic instability of this virus permits rapid escape from the host immune system and emergence of resistance to antivirals. There is thus an urgent need to develop novel approaches for efficient treatment of newly emerging strains. Based on a sequence alignment of representatives from every subtype known to infect humans, we identified nucleic acid regions that are conserved amongst these influenza A populations. We then engineered SOFA-HDV-Ribozymes as therapeutic tools recognizing these conserved regions to catalytically cleave the corresponding viral mRNA targets. The most promising ribozymes were chosen based on an initial in silico screening, and their efficacy was assessed using in vitro cleavage assays. Further characterization of their antiviral effect in cell culture and in mice led to the gradual identification of prophylactic SOFA-HDV-Ribozyme combinations, providing proof-of-principle for the potential of this novel strategy to develop antivirals against genetically highly variable viruses.
Paramyxovirus glycoproteins are posttranslationally modified by the addition of N-linked glycans, which are often necessary for correct folding, processing, and cell surface expression. To establish the contribution of N glycosylation to morbillivirus attachment (H) protein function and overall virulence, we first determined the use of the potential N-glycosylation sites in the canine distemper virus (CDV) H proteins. Biochemical characterization revealed that the three sites conserved in all strains were N glycosylated, whereas only two of the up to five additional sites present in wild-type strains are used. A wild-type virus with an H protein reproducing the vaccine strain N-glycosylation pattern remained lethal in ferrets but with a prolonged course of disease. In contrast, introduction of the vaccine H protein in the wild-type context resulted in complete attenuation. To further characterize the role of N glycosylation in CDV pathogenesis, the N-glycosylation sites of wild-type H proteins were successively deleted, including a nonstandard site, to ultimately generate a nonglycosylated H protein. Despite reduced expression levels, this protein remained fully functional. Recombinant viruses expressing N-glycan-deficient H proteins no longer caused disease, even though their immunosuppressive capacities were retained, indicating that reduced N glycosylation contributes to attenuation without affecting immunosuppression.
Morbillivirus infections are characterized by severe leukopenia and immune suppression that develop even before the onset of clinical signs. To characterize in more detail the fate of the immune cells during the critical first week, we evaluated the overall viability, level of apoptosis, cell cycle status, and extent of infection in different immune tissues of ferrets inoculated with a lethal canine distemper virus (CDV) strain. Initial experiments with MDCK cells, a canine epithelial cell line, revealed that CDV infection resulted in only a marginal increase in apoptosis at high infection levels and that infected cells were more resistant to chemically induced apoptosis. In ferrets, levels of viability and early and late apoptosis remained stable in thymus and lymph node, where more than 80% of cells were infected, whereas a gradual albeit small increase in apoptosis was observed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells and spleen. Furthermore, the progression of spontaneous apoptosis in infected cells was inhibited, while the proportion of apoptotic noninfected “bystander” cells increased. The distribution of cells in the different stages of the cell cycle in the bone marrow was not affected, but dividing cells in the thymus decreased by 50%, and a 10-fold increase in cell division was noted in the spleen. It is unlikely that the extent of infection-induced cell death and cell cycle alterations alone can account for the dramatic leukopenia observed in this model. The investigation of additional mechanisms is therefore warranted.
The type I interferon (IFN) response represents one of the first lines of defense against influenza virus infections. In this study, we assessed the protective potential of exogenous IFN-α against seasonal and highly pathogenic influenza viruses in ferrets. Intranasal treatment with IFN-α several hours before infection with the H1N1 influenza A virus strain A/USSR/90/77 reduced viral titers in nasal washes at least 100-fold compared to mock-treated controls. IFN-treated animals developed only mild and transient respiratory symptoms, and the characteristic fever peak seen in mock-treated ferrets 2 days after infection was not observed. Repeated application of IFN-α substantially increased the protective effect of the cytokine treatment. IFN-α did not increase survival after infection with the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza A virus strain A/Vietnam/1203/2004. However, viral titers in nasal washes were significantly reduced at days 1 and 3 postinfection. Our study shows that intranasal application of IFN-α can protect ferrets from seasonal influenza viruses, which replicate mainly in the upper respiratory tract, but not from highly pathogenic influenza viruses, which also disseminate to the lung. Based on these results, a more intensive evaluation of IFN-α as an emergency drug against pandemic influenza A is warranted.
No curative therapy is currently available for locally advanced or metastatic prostate cancer. Oncolytic viruses represent a novel class of therapeutic agents that demonstrates no cross-resistance with existing approaches and can therefore be combined with conventional treatment modalities. Measles virus strains deriving from the Edmonston (MV-Edm) vaccine strain have shown considerable oncolytic activity against a variety of solid tumers and hematologic malignancies. In this study, we investigated the antitumor potential of recombinant MV-Edm derivatives as novel oncolytic agents against prostate cancer.
The susceptibility of prostate cancer cell lines (PC-3, DU-145, and LNCaP) to measles virus infection was demonstrated using an MV-Edm derivative expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP). MV-Edm replication in prostate cancer cell lines was assessed by one step viral growth curves. The oncolytic effect of an MV-Edm strain engineered to express the human carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) was demonstrated in vitro by MTT assays and in vivo in subcutaneous PC-3 xenografts. CEA levels were quantitated in cell supernatants and mouse serum samples.
Recombinant MV-Edm strains can effectively infect, replicate in and kill prostate cancer cells. Intratumoral administration of MV-CEA at a total dose of 6 ×106 TCID50 resulted in statistically significant tumor growth delay (P = 0.004) and prolongation of survival (P = 0.001) in a subcutaneous PC-3 xenograft model. Viral growth kinetics paralleled CEA production.
MV-CEA has potent antitumor activity against prostate cancer cell lines and xenografts. Viral gene expression during treatment can be determined by monitoring of CEA levels in the serum; the latter could allow dose optimization and tailoring of individualized treatment protocols.
CEA; measles virus; MV-CEA; prostate cancer; virotherapy
Severe immunosuppression is a hallmark of Morbillivirus infections. To study the underlying mechanisms, we have developed a ferret model of canine distemper virus infection. The model reproduces all clinical signs of measles, but the lack of ferret-specific reagents has limited the characterization of the cellular immune response. Towards this, we cloned ferret cytokines and established semi-quantitative real-time PCR assays. To demonstrate the utility of these assays we compared the cytokine profiles elicited by lethal and non-lethal strains during the prodromal phase. We observed a general lack of cytokine induction in animals that later succumbed to the disease, whereas survivors mounted a robust and sustained response. The newly developed cytokine assays strengthen and expand the ferret model not only for Morbillivirus pathogenesis studies but also for several other human respiratory viruses including influenza and SARS.
Morbillivirus; canine distemper virus; immunosuppression; ferret cytokine mRNA quantification; prediction of disease outcome
Morbilliviruses, including measles and canine distemper virus (CDV), are nonsegmented, negative-stranded RNA viruses that cause severe diseases in humans and animals. The transcriptional units in their genomes are separated by untranslated regions (UTRs), which contain essential transcription and translation signals. Due to its increased length, the region between the matrix (M) protein and fusion (F) protein open reading frames is of particular interest. In measles virus, the entire F 5′ region is untranslated, while several start codons are found in most other morbilliviruses, resulting in a long F protein signal peptide (Fsp). To characterize the role of this region in morbillivirus pathogenesis, we constructed recombinant CDVs, in which either the M-F UTR was replaced with that between the nucleocapsid (N) and phosphoprotein (P) genes, or 106 Fsp residues were deleted. The Fsp deletion alone had no effect in vitro and in vivo. In contrast, substitution of the UTR was associated with a slight increase in F gene and protein expression. Animals infected with this virus either recovered completely or experienced prolonged disease and death due to neuroinvasion. The combination of both changes resulted in a virus with strongly increased F gene and protein expression and complete attenuation. Taken together, our results provide evidence that the region between the morbillivirus M and F genes modulates virulence through transcriptional control of the F gene expression.
The Morbillivirus hemagglutinin (H) protein mediates attachment to the target cell. To evaluate its contribution to canine distemper virus neurovirulence, we exchanged the H proteins of the wild-type strains 5804P and A75 and assessed the pathogenesis of the chimeric viruses in ferrets. Both strains are lethal to ferrets; however, 5804P causes a 2-week disease without neurological signs, whereas A75 is associated with a longer disease course and neurological involvement. We observed that both H proteins supported neuroinvasion and the subsequent development of clinical neurological signs if given enough time, demonstrating that disease duration is the main neurovirulence determinant.
Cholesterol is known to play an important role in stabilizing particular cellular membrane structures, so-called lipid or membrane rafts. For several viruses, a dependence on cholesterol for virus entry and/or morphogenesis has been shown. Using flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy, we demonstrate that infection of cells by canine distemper virus (CDV) was not impaired after cellular cholesterol had been depleted by the drug methyl-β-cyclodextrin. This effect was independent of the multiplicity of infection and the cellular receptor used for infection. However, cholesterol depletion of the viral envelope significantly reduced CDV infectivity. Replenishment by addition of exogenous cholesterol restored infectivity up to 80%. Thus, we conclude that CDV entry is dependent on cholesterol in the viral envelope. Furthermore, reduced syncytium formation was observed when the cells were cholesterol depleted during the course of the infection. This may be related to the observation that CDV envelope proteins H and F partitioned into cellular detergent-resistant membranes. Therefore, a role for lipid rafts during virus assembly and release as well is suggested.
Canine distemper virus (CDV), a member of the Morbillivirus genus that also includes measles virus, frequently causes neurologic complications, but the routes and timing of CDV invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) are poorly understood. To characterize these events, we cloned and sequenced the genome of a neurovirulent CDV (strain A75/17) and produced an infectious cDNA that expresses the green fluorescent protein. This virus fully retained its virulence in ferrets: the course and signs of disease were equivalent to those of the parental isolate. We observed CNS invasion through two distinct pathways: anterogradely via the olfactory nerve and hematogenously through the choroid plexus and cerebral blood vessels. CNS invasion only occurred after massive infection of the lymphatic system and spread to the epithelial cells throughout the body. While at early time points, mostly immune and endothelial cells were infected, the virus later spread to glial cells and neurons. Together, the results suggest similarities in the timing, target cells, and CNS invasion routes of CDV, members of the Morbillivirus genus, and even other neurovirulent paramyxoviruses like Nipah and mumps viruses.
Experimental infections of ferrets with canine distemper virus (CDV) recapitulate many hallmarks of measles: rash, high fever, viremia, depression of delayed-type hypersensitivity responses, lowered leukocyte counts, and reduced lymphocyte proliferation activity. To understand how a morbillivirus invades the host and causes immunosuppression, we generated CDV either unable to recognize one of the receptors or incapable of expressing either one or both of the candidate interferon antagonist proteins V and C. Variants of these viruses expressing green fluorescent protein were also generated. Striking similarities between CDV infection of ferrets and human immunodeficiency virus host invasion were documented: first, massive early replication in the gut-associated lymphatic tissue, including intestinal Peyer's patches, followed by extensive infection of lymphatic organs, including thymus and circulating lymphocytes. Moreover, T cells were selectively depleted. Thus, CDV takes advantage of mucosal surfaces for host invasion and lymphocytes for swift dissemination. A CDV unable to recognize the signaling lymphocytic activation molecule (SLAM [CD150]) that is expressed in lymphocytes and other immune cells did not spread. A V-defective CDV multiplied with reduced efficiency in lymphocytes and did not inhibit the interferon and cytokine responses. Protein C affected the severity of rash and digestive symptoms elicited by V-defective CDV, but it was dispensable for the invasion of the lymphatic organs. These findings prove formally that SLAM recognition is necessary for morbillivirus virulence. They also reveal how two viral proteins affect pathogenesis: V sustains the swift lymphocyte-based invasion of mucosal tissue and lymphatic organs, whereas C sustains subsequent infection phases.