Mutation of the N-Terminal Region of Chikungunya Virus Capsid Protein: Implications for Vaccine Design
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Mosquito-transmitted chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an arthritogenic alphavirus of the Togaviridae family responsible for frequent outbreaks of arthritic disease in humans. Capsid protein, a structural protein encoded by the CHIKV RNA genome, is able to translocate to the host cell nucleolus. In encephalitic alphaviruses, nuclear translocation induces host cell transcriptional shutoff; however, the role of capsid protein nucleolar localization in arthritogenic alphaviruses remains unclear. Using recombinant enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP)-tagged expression constructs and CHIKV infectious clones, we describe a nucleolar localization sequence (NoLS) in the N-terminal region of capsid protein, previously uncharacterized in CHIKV. Mutation of the NoLS by site-directed mutagenesis reduced efficiency of nuclear import of CHIKV capsid protein. In the virus, mutation of the capsid protein NoLS (CHIKV-NoLS) attenuated replication in mammalian and mosquito cells, producing a small-plaque phenotype. Attenuation of CHIKV-NoLS is likely due to disruption of the viral replication cycle downstream of viral RNA synthesis. In mice, CHIKV-NoLS infection caused no disease signs compared to wild-type CHIKV (CHIKV-WT)-infected mice; lack of disease signs correlated with significantly reduced viremia and decreased expression of proinflammatory factors. Mice immunized with CHIKV-NoLS, challenged with CHIKV-WT at 30 days postimmunization, develop no disease signs and no detectable viremia. Serum from CHIKV-NoLS-immunized mice is able to efficiently neutralize CHIKV infection in vitro. Additionally, CHIKV-NoLS-immunized mice challenged with the related alphavirus Ross River virus showed reduced early and peak viremia postchallenge, indicating a cross-protective effect. The high degree of CHIKV-NoLS attenuation may improve CHIKV antiviral and rational vaccine design.
© 2017 Taylor et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Microbiology not elsewhere classified