Packaging defects in pestiviral NS4A can be compensated by mutations in NS2 and NS3

Jonas Fellenberg, Danilo Dubrau, Olaf Isken, Norbert Tautz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Abstract

The non-structural (NS) proteins of the Flaviviridae members play a dual role in genome replication and virion morphogenesis. For pestiviruses, like bovine viral diarrhea virus, the NS2-3 region and its processing by the NS2 autoprotease is of particular importance. While uncleaved NS2-3 in complex with NS4A is essential for virion assembly, it cannot replace free NS3/4A in the viral replicase. Furthermore, surface interactions between NS3 and the C-terminal cytosolic domain of NS4A were shown to serve as a molecular switch between RNA replication and virion morphogenesis. To further characterize the functionality of NS4A, we performed an alanine-scanning mutagenesis of two NS4A regions, a short highly conserved cytoplasmic linker downstream of the transmembrane domain and the C-terminal domain. NS4A residues critical for polyprotein processing, RNA replication, and/or virion morphogenesis were identified. Three double-alanine mutants, two in the linker region and one close to the C-terminus of NS4A, showed a selective effect on virion assembly. All three packaging defective mutants could be rescued by a selected set of two second-site mutations, located in NS2 and NS3, respectively. This phenotype was additionally confirmed by complementation studies providing the NS2-3/4A packaging molecules containing the rescue mutations in trans. This indicates that the linker region and the cytosolic C-terminal part of NS4A are critical for the formation of protein complexes required for virion morphogenesis. The ability of the identified sets of second-site mutations in NS2-3 to compensate for diverse NS4A defects highlights a surprising functional flexibility for pestiviral NS proteins. IMPORTANCE Positive-strand RNA viruses have a limited coding capacity due to their rather small genome size. To overcome this constraint, viral proteins often exhibit multiple functions that come into play at different stages during the viral replication cycle. The molecular basis for this multifunctionality is often unknown. For the bovine viral diarrhea virus, the non-structural protein (NS) 4A functions as an NS3 protease cofactor, a replicase building block, and a component in virion morphogenesis. Here, we identified the critical amino acids of its C-terminal cytosolic region involved in those processes and show that second-site mutations in NS2 and NS3 can compensate for diverse NS4A defects in virion morphogenesis. The ability to evolve alternative functional solutions by gain-of-function mutations highlights the astounding plasticity of the pestiviral system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Virology
Volume97
Issue number9
ISSN0022-538X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 09.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)
  • Centers: Center for Structural and Cell Biology (CSCM/ZMSZ)

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 204-04 Virology

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