Identification of the functional regions of the viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV) NV protein: Variants that improve function

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Non-virion (NV) protein is essential for an efficient replication increasing the pathogenicity of the Salmonid novirhabdovirus (formerly IHNV), Piscine novirhabdovirus (formerly VHSV), and Hirame novirhabdovirus (HIRV). The interferon system, apoptosis, and other immune-related genes are modulated by NV to finally induce a deficient antiviral state in the cell. However, little is known about the VHSV NV regions involved in function and location. Here, eight different NV 07.71 fragments and eleven NV 07.71 mutants derived from the region between the two first α-helices have been studied in order to establish the mx and il8 transcript levels in ZF4 cells and the subcellular location. As a result, we determined that the N-terminal part of NV preserves the same ability as the wild-type (wt) NV in mx/il8 modulation and it also shares the subcellular location. Among NV mutants, some induced mx upregulation (N34A, C35A, D38A, and S40A) but maintained the il8 levels stable when compared to wt-NV in ZF4. Four NV mutants (D28A, N31A, L33A, and F37A) were not affected by the mutation and showed mx and il8 transcript levels similar to wt-NV. Surprisingly, mutants D36A, R39A, and D41A induced a stronger downregulation of both mx and il8 transcript levels than wt-NV, suggesting that a more stable structure and an improved interaction with ligands could be achieved through these mutations. Amino acids at positions 36 and 39 are conserved among known VHSV NV proteins whereas at position 41 two different amino acids have been described. To date, no natural NV proteins with alanine at positions 36, 39, and 41 have been found. In addition, wt-NV, all NV mutants, and one N-terminal NV fragment were located at cytoplasm with a characteristic pattern, which might support that cytoplasm is the site for interaction with candidate ligands such as PPM1Bb. Taken together, the data presented in this work indicated that NV function relies on the first part of the molecule and is dependent on tertiary structure rather than on the linear one. This study could lead to a better knowledge of VHSV escape from fish antiviral mechanisms as well as to future studies on immune targets.

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