Murine Coronavirus Ubiquitin-Like Domain Is Important for Papain-Like Protease Stability and Viral Pathogenesis

  • Mielech A
  • Deng X
  • Chen Y
 et al. 
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Ubiquitin-like domains (Ubls) now are recognized as common elements adjacent to viral and cellular proteases; however, their function is unclear. Structural studies of the papain-like protease (PLP) domains of coronaviruses (CoVs) revealed an adjacent Ubl domain in severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV, Middle East respiratory syndrome CoV, and the murine CoV, mouse hepatitis virus (MHV). Here, we tested the effect of altering the Ubl adjacent to PLP2 of MHV on enzyme activity, viral replication, and pathogenesis. Using deletion and substitution approaches, we identified sites within the Ubl domain, residues 785 to 787 of nonstructural protein 3, which negatively affect protease activity, and valine residues 785 and 787, which negatively affect deubiquitinating activity. Using reverse genetics, we engineered Ubl mutant viruses and found that AM2 (V787S) and AM3 (V785S) viruses replicate efficiently at 37°C but generate smaller plaques than wild-type (WT) virus, and AM2 is defective for replication at higher temperatures. To evaluate the effect of the mutation on protease activity, we purified WT and Ubl mutant PLP2 and found that the proteases exhibit similar specific activities at 25°C. However, the thermal stability of the Ubl mutant PLP2 was significantly reduced at 30°C, thereby reducing the total enzymatic activity. To determine if the destabilizing mutation affects viral pathogenesis, we infected C57BL/6 mice with WT or AM2 virus and found that the mutant virus is highly attenuated, yet it replicates sufficiently to elicit protective immunity. These studies revealed that modulating the Ubl domain adjacent to the PLP reduces protease stability and viral pathogenesis, revealing a novel approach to coronavirus attenuation.

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  • Anna M. Mielech

  • Xufang Deng

  • Yafang Chen

  • Eveline Kindler

  • Dorthea L. Wheeler

  • Andrew D. Mesecar

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