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R Remenyi, Y Gao, RE Hughes, A Curd, C Zothner, M Peckham, A Merits and M Harris
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV), a mosquito-borne human pathogen, causes a disabling disease characterized by severe joint pain that can persist for weeks, months or even years in patients. The non-structural protein 3 (nsP3) plays essential roles during acute infection, but little is known about the function of nsP3 during chronic disease. Here, we used sub-diffraction multi-color microscopy for spatial and temporal analysis of CHIKV nsP3 within human cells that persistently replicate replicon RNA. Round cytoplasmic granules of various sizes (i) contained nsP3 and stress granule assembly factors 1 and 2 (G3BP1/2); (ii) were next to double-stranded RNA foci and nsP1-positive structures; and (iii) were close to the nuclear membrane and the nuclear pore complex protein Nup98. Analysis of protein turnover and mobility by live-cell microscopy revealed that granules could persist for hours to days, accumulated newly synthesized protein, and moved through the cytoplasm at varying speeds. Granules also had a static internal architecture and were stable in cell lysates. Refractory cells that had cleared the non-cytotoxic replicon regained the ability to respond to arsenite-induced stress. In summary, nsP3 can form uniquely stable granular structures that persist long-term within the host cell. This continued presence of viral and cellular protein-complexes has implications for the study of the pathogenic consequences of lingering CHIKV infection and the development of strategies to mitigate the burden of chronic musculoskeletal disease brought about by a medically important arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus).ImportanceChikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging alphavirus transmitted by mosquitos and causes transient sickness but also chronic disease affecting muscles and joints. No approved vaccines or antivirals are available. Thus, a better understanding of the viral life cycle and the role of viral proteins can aid in identifying new therapeutic targets. Advances in microscopy and development of non-cytotoxic replicons (Utt, Das, Varjak, Lulla, Lulla, Merits, J Virol 89:3145-62, 2015, doi:10.1128/JVI.03213-14) have allowed researchers to study viral proteins within controlled laboratory environments over extended durations. Here we established human cells that stably replicate replicon RNA and express tagged non-structural protein 3. The ability to track nsP3 within the host cell and during persistent replication can benefit fundamental research efforts to better understand long-term consequences of the persistence of viral protein complexes and thereby provide the foundation for new therapeutic targets to control CHIKV infection and treat chronic disease symptoms.
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