Article

Attenuation of rabies virus replication and virulence by picornavirus internal ribosome entry site elements.

Max von Pettenkofer-Institute and Gene Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany.
Journal of Virology (Impact Factor: 4.65). 01/2009; 83(4):1911-9. DOI: 10.1128/JVI.02055-08
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Gene expression of nonsegmented negative-strand RNA viruses is regulated at the transcriptional level and relies on the canonical 5'-end-dependent translation of capped viral mRNAs. Here, we have used internal ribosome entry sites (IRES) from picornaviruses to control the expression level of the phosphoprotein P of the neurotropic rabies virus (RV; Rhabdoviridae), which is critically required for both viral replication and escape from the host interferon response. In a dual luciferase reporter RV, the IRES elements of poliovirus (PV) and human rhinovirus type 2 (HRV2) were active in a variety of cell lines from different host species. While a generally lower activity of the HRV2 IRES was apparent compared to the PV IRES, specific deficits of the HRV2 IRES in neuronal cell lines were not observed. Recombinant RVs expressing P exclusively from a bicistronic nucleoprotein (N)-IRES-P mRNA showed IRES-specific reduction of replication in cell culture and in neurons of organotypic brain slice cultures, an increased activation of the beta interferon (IFN-beta) promoter, and increased sensitivity to IFN. Intracerebral infection revealed a complete loss of virulence of both PV- and HRV2 IRES-controlled RV for wild-type mice and for transgenic mice lacking a functional IFN-alpha receptor (IFNAR(-/-)). The virulence of HRV2 IRES-controlled RV was most severely attenuated and could be demonstrated only in newborn IFNAR(-/-) mice. Translational control of individual genes is a promising strategy to attenuate replication and virulence of live nonsegmented negative-strand RNA viruses and vectors and to study the function of IRES elements in detail.

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