Establishment of a reverse genetics system for duck Tembusu virus to study virulence and screen antiviral genes

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Recently, a newly emerged avian flavivirus, duck Tembusu virus (TMUV), was identified as the causative agent of a serious duck viral disease in Asia. Its rapid spread and expanded host range have raised substantial concerns regarding its potential threat to non-avian hosts, including humans. In this study, we report an infectious cDNA clone for a clinical strain CQW1 isolated from Southwest China, which is representative of the disease outbreak in the Chinese mainland. We generated a full-length cDNA clone pACYC FL-TMUV, which is infectious, and this cDNA clone-derived recombinant TMUV (rTMUV) showed comparative growth kinetics in both BHK21 cells and DEF cells compared with parental TMUV (pTMUV). In addition, rTMUV also showed the same high virulence in 9-day-old duck embryos as that in pTMUV, suggesting that rTMUV possessed similar properties to the natural virus both in vitro and in vivo. Based on the cDNA-clone, we first generated a reporter TMUV (TMUV-RLuc) carrying a Renilla luciferase (RLuc) gene. The luciferase kinetics of TMUV-RLuc were determined both in BHK21 and DEF cells. It seems that TMUV-RLuc grew well in vitro; however, the insertion of the RLuc gene attenuated viral replication in vitro. The higher viral titres of TMUV-RLuc were observed in BHK21 compared with that in DEF cells. The antiviral effects of exogenous-expressed duck RIG-I, MDA5, STING, MAVS, TBK1, IFNα and IFNγ were studied in vitro by using TMUV-RLuc. Our reverse genetics system will provide a multicomponent platform for the pathogenesis study of duck TMUV and the development of molecular countermeasures against duck TMUV infection.

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