Multiple roles of the non-structural protein 3 (nsP3) alphavirus unique domain (AUD) during Chikungunya virus genome replication and transcription.
Gao Y., Goonawardane N., Ward J., Tuplin A., Harris M.
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging Alphavirus causing fever, joint pain, skin rash, arthralgia, and occasionally death. Antiviral therapies and/or effective vaccines are urgently required. CHIKV biology is poorly understood, in particular the functions of the non-structural protein 3 (nsP3). Here we present the results of a mutagenic analysis of the alphavirus unique domain (AUD) of nsP3. Informed by the structure of the Sindbis virus AUD and an alignment of amino acid sequences of multiple alphaviruses, a series of mutations in the AUD were generated in a CHIKV sub-genomic replicon. This analysis revealed an essential role for the AUD in CHIKV RNA replication, with mutants exhibiting species- and cell-type specific phenotypes. To test if the AUD played a role in other stages of the virus lifecycle, the mutants were analysed in the context of infectious CHIKV. This analysis indicated that the AUD was also required for virus assembly. In particular, one mutant (P247A/V248A) exhibited a dramatic reduction in production of infectious virus. This phenotype was shown to be due to a block in transcription of the subgenomic RNA leading to reduced synthesis of the structural proteins and a concomitant reduction in virus production. This phenotype could be further explained by both a reduction in the binding of the P247A/V248A mutant nsP3 to viral genomic RNA in vivo, and the reduced affinity of the mutant AUD for the subgenomic promoter RNA in vitro. We propose that the AUD is a pleiotropic protein domain, with multiple functions during CHIKV RNA synthesis.