Rabies virus matrix protein induces apoptosis by targeting mitochondria

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Apoptosis, as an innate antiviral defense, not only functions to limit viral replication by eliminating infected cells, but also contribute to viral dissemination, particularly at the late stages of infection. A highly neurotropic CVS strain of rabies virus induces apoptosis both in vitro and in vivo. However, the detailed mechanism of CVS-mediated neuronal apoptosis is not entirely clear. Here, we show that CVS induces apoptosis through mitochondrial pathway by dissipating mitochondrial membrane potential, release of cytochrome c and AIF. CVS blocks Bax activation at the early stages of infection; while M protein partially targets mitochondria and induces mitochondrial apoptosis at the late stages of infection. The α-helix structure spanning 67–79 amino acids of M protein is essential for mitochondrial targeting and induction of apoptosis. These results suggest that CVS functions on mitochondria to regulate apoptosis at different stages of infection, so as to for viral replication and dissemination.

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