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J Virol. 2007 Aug;81(16):8477-87. Epub 2007 Jun 6.

Processing of capsid protein by cathepsin L plays a crucial role in replication of Japanese encephalitis virus in neural and macrophage cells.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Virology, Research Institute for Microbial Diseases, Osaka University, 3-1 Yamada-oka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871, Japan.


The flavivirus capsid protein not only is a component of nucleocapsids but also plays a role in viral replication. In this study, we found a small capsid protein in cells infected with Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) but not in the viral particles. The small capsid protein was shown to be generated by processing with host cysteine protease cathepsin L. An in vitro cleavage assay revealed that cathepsin L cleaves the capsid protein between amino acid residues Lys(18) and Arg(19), which are well conserved among the mosquito-borne flaviviruses. A mutant JEV resistant to the cleavage of the capsid protein by cathepsin L was generated from an infectious cDNA clone of JEV by introducing a substitution in the cleavage site. The mutant JEV exhibited growth kinetics similar to those of the wild-type JEV in monkey (Vero), mosquito (C6/36), and porcine (PK15) cell lines, whereas replication of the mutant JEV in mouse macrophage (RAW264.7) and neuroblastoma (N18) cells was impaired. Furthermore, the neurovirulence and neuroinvasiveness of the mutant JEV to mice were lower than those of the wild-type JEV. These results suggest that the processing of the JEV capsid protein by cathepsin L plays a crucial role in the replication of JEV in neural and macrophage cells, which leads to the pathogenesis of JEV infection.

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