The family Flaviviridae contains three genera of positive-strand RNA viruses, namely, Flavivirus, Hepacivirus (e.g., hepatitis C virus [HCV]), and Pestivirus. Pestiviruses, like bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), bear a striking degree of similarity to HCV concerning polyprotein organization, processing, and function. Along this line, in both systems, release of nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) is essential for viral RNA replication. However, both viruses differ significantly with respect to processing efficiency at the NS2/3 cleavage site and abundance as well as functional relevance of uncleaved NS2-3. In BVDV-infected cells, significant amounts of NS2-3 accumulate at late time points postinfection and play an essential but ill-defined role in the production of infectious virions. In contrast, complete cleavage of the HCV NS2-3 counterpart has been reported, and unprocessed NS2-3 is not required throughout the life cycle of HCV, at least in cell culture. Here we describe the selection and characterization of the first pestiviral genome with the capability to complete productive infection in the absence of uncleaved NS2-3. Despite the insertion of a ubiquitin gene or an internal ribosomal entry site between the NS2 and NS3 coding sequences, the selected chimeric BVDV-1 genomes gave rise to infectious virus progeny. In this context, a mutation in the N-terminal third of NS2 was identified as a critical determinant for efficient production of infectious virions in the absence of uncleaved NS2-3. These findings challenge a previously accepted dogma for pestivirus replication and provide new implications for virion morphogenesis of pestiviruses and HCV.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)