Rabies virus (RABV) P gene mRNA encodes five in-frame start codons, resulting in expression of full-length P protein (P1) and N-terminally truncated P proteins (tPs), designated P2, P3, P4, and P5. Despite the fact that some tPs are known as interferon (IFN) antagonists, the importance of tPs in the pathogenesis of RABV is still unclear. In this study, to examine whether tPs contribute to pathogenesis, we exploited a reverse genetics approach to generate CE(NiP)ΔP2-5, a mutant of pathogenic CE(NiP) in which the P gene was mutated by replacing all of the start codons (AUG) for tPs with AUA.We confirmed that while CE(NiP) expresses detectable levels of P2 and P3, CE(NiP)ΔP2-5 has an impaired ability to express these tPs. After intramuscular inoculation, CE(NiP)ΔP2-5 caused significantly lower morbidity and mortality rates in mice than did CE(NiP), indicating that tPs play a critical role in RABV neuroinvasiveness. Further examinations revealed that this less neuroinvasive phenotype of CE(NiP)ΔP2-5 correlates with its impaired ability to replicate in muscle cells, indicative of the importance of tPs in viral replication in muscle cells. We also demonstrated that CE(NiP)ΔP2-5 infection induced a higher level of Ifn-β gene expression in muscle cells than did CE(NiP) infection, consistent with the results of an IFN-β promoter reporter assay suggesting that all tPs function to antagonize IFN induction in muscle cells. Taken together, our findings strongly suggest that tPs promote viral replication in muscle cells through their IFN antagonist activities and thereby support infection of peripheral nerves.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science