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Virology. 2002 Apr 25;296(1):177-89.

The group-specific murine coronavirus genes are not essential, but their deletion, by reverse genetics, is attenuating in the natural host.

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Virology Division, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


In addition to a characteristic set of essential genes coronaviruses contain several so-called group-specific genes. These genes differ distinctly among the three coronavirus groups and are specific for each group. While the essential genes encode replication and structural functions, hardly anything is known about the products and functions of the group-specific genes. As a first step to elucidate their significance, we deleted the group-specific genes from the group 2 mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) genome via a novel targeted recombination system based on host switching (L. Kuo, G. J.Godeke, M. J. Raamsman, P. S. Masters, and P. J. M. Rottier, 2000, J. Virol. 74, 1393-1406). Thus, we obtained recombinant viruses from which the two clusters of group-specific genes were deleted either separately or in combination in a controlled genetic background. As all recombinant deletion mutant viruses appeared to be viable, we conclude that the MHV group-specific genes are nonessential, accessory genes. Importantly, all deletion mutant viruses were attenuated when inoculated into their natural host, the mouse. Therefore, deletion of the coronavirus group-specific genes seems to provide an attractive approach to generate attenuated live coronavirus vaccines.

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