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PLoS Pathog. 2008 May 30;4(5):e1000077. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000077.

Human metapneumovirus glycoprotein G inhibits innate immune responses.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, USA.


Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a leading cause of acute respiratory tract infection in infants, as well as in the elderly and immunocompromised patients. No effective treatment or vaccine for hMPV is currently available. A recombinant hMPV lacking the G protein (rhMPV-Delta G) was recently developed as a potential vaccine candidate and shown to be attenuated in the respiratory tract of a rodent model of infection. The mechanism of its attenuation, as well as the role of G protein in modulation of hMPV-induced cellular responses in vitro, as well as in vivo, is currently unknown. In this study, we found that rhMPV-Delta G-infected airway epithelial cells produced higher levels of chemokines and type I interferon (IFN) compared to cells infected with rhMPV-WT. Infection of airway epithelial cells with rhMPV-Delta G enhanced activation of transcription factors belonging to the nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB and interferon regulatory factor (IRF) families, as revealed by increased nuclear translocation and/or phosphorylation of these transcription factors. Compared to rhMPV-WT, rhMPV-Delta G also increased IRF- and NF-kappaB-dependent gene transcription, which was reversely inhibited by G protein expression. Since RNA helicases have been shown to play a fundamental role in initiating viral-induced cellular signaling, we investigated whether retinoic induced gene (RIG)-I was the target of G protein inhibitory activity. We found that indeed G protein associated with RIG-I and inhibited RIG-I-dependent gene transcription, identifying an important mechanism by which hMPV affects innate immune responses. This is the first study investigating the role of hMPV G protein in cellular signaling and identifies G as an important virulence factor, as it inhibits the production of important immune and antiviral mediators by targeting RIG-I, a major intracellular viral RNA sensor.

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