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J Virol. 1997 Dec;71(12):9427-33.

The function of the spike protein of mouse hepatitis virus strain A59 can be studied on virus-like particles: cleavage is not required for infectivity.

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Department of Virology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


The spike protein (S) of the murine coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus strain A59 (MHV-A59) induces both virus-to-cell fusion during infection and syncytium formation. Thus far, only syncytium formation could be studied after transient expression of S. We have recently described a system in which viral infectivity is mimicked by using virus-like particles (VLPs) and reporter defective-interfering (DI) RNAs (E. C. W. Bos, W. Luytjes, H. Van der Meulen, H. K. Koerten, and W. J. M. Spaan, Virology 218:52-60, 1996). Production of VLPs of MHV-A59 was shown to be dependent on the expression of M and E. We now show in several ways that the infectivity of VLPs is dependent on S. Infectivity was lost when spikeless VLPs were produced. Infectivity was blocked upon treatment of the VLPs with MHV-A59-neutralizing anti-S monoclonal antibody (MAb) A2.3 but not with nonneutralizing anti-S MAb A1.4. When the target cells were incubated with antireceptor MAb CC1, which blocks MHV-A59 infection, VLPs did not infect the target cells. Thus, S-mediated VLP infectivity resembles MHV-A59 infectivity. The system can be used to identify domains in S that are essential for infectivity. As a first application, we investigated the requirements of cleavage of S for the infectivity of MHV-A59. We inserted three mutant S proteins that were previously shown to be uncleaved (E. C. W. Bos, L. Heijnen, W. Luytjes, and W. J. M. Spaan, Virology 214:453-463, 1995) into the VLPs. Here we show that cleavage of the spike protein of MHV-A59 is not required for infectivity.

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