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J Virol. 2007 Oct;81(19):10268-79. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Nuclear import and export of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus nonstructural protein 2.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Carolina Vaccine Institute, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, CB 7292, Burnett-Womack Room 9005, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Many RNA viruses, which replicate predominantly in the cytoplasm, have nuclear components that contribute to their life cycle or pathogenesis. We investigated the intracellular localization of the multifunctional nonstructural protein 2 (nsP2) in mammalian cells infected with Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE), an important, naturally emerging zoonotic alphavirus. VEE nsP2 localizes to both the cytoplasm and the nucleus of mammalian cells in the context of infection and also when expressed alone. Through the analysis of a series of enhanced green fluorescent protein fusions, a segment of nsP2 that completely localizes to the nucleus of mammalian cells was identified. Within this region, mutation of the putative nuclear localization signal (NLS) PGKMV diminished, but did not obliterate, the ability of the protein to localize to the nucleus, suggesting that this sequence contributes to the nuclear localization of VEE nsP2. Furthermore, VEE nsP2 specifically interacted with the nuclear import protein karyopherin-alpha1 but not with karyopherin-alpha2, -3, or -4, suggesting that karyopherin-alpha1 transports nsP2 to the nucleus during infection. Additionally, a novel nuclear export signal (NES) was identified, which included residues L526 and L528 of VEE nsP2. Leptomycin B treatment resulted in nuclear accumulation of nsP2, demonstrating that nuclear export of nsP2 is mediated via the CRM1 nuclear export pathway. Disruption of either the NLS or the NES in nsP2 compromised essential viral functions. Taken together, these results establish the bidirectional transport of nsP2 across the nuclear membrane, suggesting that a critical function of nsP2 during infection involves its shuttling between the cytoplasm and the nucleus.

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