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J Virol. 2005 Jul;79(13):8262-74.

Characterization of a previously unidentified viral protein in porcine circovirus type 2-infected cells and its role in virus-induced apoptosis.

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Animal Health Biotechnology Group, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, National University of Singapore, 1 Research Link, Singapore 117604.


Porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) is the causative agent of postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome in pigs. In this study, transcription and translation of a novel viral gene (termed ORF3 here) was detected during productive infection of PCV2 in PK15 cells. The results of infection with ORF3-deficient PCV2 by site-directed mutagenesis indicated that the protein is not essential for viral replication. To investigate the underlying mechanism of cell death caused by replication of PCV2, apoptosis characterized by chromosomal condensation and fragmentation, formation of apoptotic bodies, and significant increase in hypodiploids were detected in infected cells. We further demonstrated that PCV2-induced apoptosis required the activation of caspase-8 but not caspase-9. The activation of caspase-8 results in the activation of caspase-3 as shown by an increase in the cleavage of the caspase substrate in the infected cells. To determine whether ORF3 protein could trigger apoptosis, ORF3 as well as ORF1 and ORF2 genes were transiently expressed in PK15 and Cos-7 cells for apoptotic activity assay. Transfection of cells with the ORF3 alone induced apoptosis using a pathway similar to that described in the context of viral infection. This is further confirmed by a significant decrease in apoptotic activity of infected cells in the absence of the ORF3 expression, suggesting that the protein plays a major role in the induction of virus-induced apoptosis. Altogether, these results indicate that ORF3 is a novel PCV2 protein that is not essential for viral replication in cultured cells but is involved in PCV2-induced apoptosis by activating caspase-8 and caspase-3 pathways.

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