The large tegument protein encoded by the UL36 gene of pseudorabies virus (PrV) physically interacts with the product of the adjacent UL37 gene (B. G. Klupp, W. Fuchs, H. Granzow, R. Nixdorf, and T. C. Mettenleiter, J. Virol. 76:3065-3071, 2002). To analyze UL36 function, two PrV recombinants were generated by mutagenesis of an infectious PrV full-length clone in Escherichia coli: PrV-DeltaUL36F exhibited a deletion of virtually the complete UL36 coding region, whereas PrV-UL36BSF contained two in-frame deletions of 238 codons spanning the predicted UL37 binding domain. Coimmunoprecipitation experiments confirmed that the mutated gene product of PrV-UL36BSF did not interact with the UL37 protein. Like the previously described PrV-DeltaUL37 (B. G. Klupp, H. Granzow, and T. C. Mettenleiter, J. Virol. 75:8927-8936, 2001) but in contrast to PrV-DeltaUL36F, PrV-UL36BSF was able to replicate in rabbit kidney (RK13) cells, although maximum virus titers were reduced ca. 50-fold and plaque diameters were reduced by ca. 45% compared to wild-type PrV. PrV-DeltaUL36F was able to productively replicate after repair of the deleted gene or in a trans-complementing cell line. Electron microscopy of infected RK13 cells revealed that PrV-UL36BSF and phenotypically complemented PrV-DeltaUL36F were capable of nucleocapsid formation and egress from the nucleus by primary envelopment and deenvelopment at the nuclear membrane. However, reenvelopment of nucleocapsids in the cytoplasm was blocked. Only virus-like particles without capsids were released efficiently from cells. Interestingly, cytoplasmic nucleocapsids of PrV-UL36BSF but not of PrV-DeltaUL36F were found in large ordered structures similar to those which had previously been observed with PrV-DeltaUL37. In summary, our results demonstrate that the interaction between the UL36 and UL37 proteins is important but not strictly essential for the formation of secondary enveloped, infectious PrV particles. Furthermore, UL36 possesses an essential function during virus replication which is independent of its ability to bind the UL37 protein.
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