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Vaccinia virus (VACV) protein N1 is an intracellular virulence factor and belongs to a family of VACV B-cell lymphoma (Bcl)-2-like proteins whose members inhibit apoptosis or activation of pro-inflammatory transcription factors, such as interferon (IFN) regulatory factor-3 (IRF-3) and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB). Unusually, N1 inhibits both apoptosis and NF-κB activation. To understand how N1 exerts these different functions, we have mutated residues in the Bcl-2-like surface groove and at the interface used to form N1 homodimers. Mutagenesis of the surface groove abolished only the N1 anti-apoptotic activity and protein crystallography showed these mutants differed from wild-type N1 only at the site of mutation. Conversely, mutagenesis of the dimer interface converted N1 to a monomer and affected only inhibition of NF-κB activation. Collectively, these data show that N1 inhibits pro-inflammatory and pro-apoptotic signalling using independent surfaces of the protein. To determine the relative contribution of each activity to virus virulence, mutant N1 alleles were introduced into a VACV strain lacking N1 and the virulence of these viruses was analysed after intradermal and intranasal inoculation in mice. In both models, VACV containing a mutant N1 unable to inhibit apoptosis had similar virulence to wild-type virus, whereas VACV containing a mutant N1 impaired for NF-κB inhibition induced an attenuated infection similar to that of the N1-deleted virus. This indicates that anti-apoptotic activity of N1 does not drive virulence in these in vivo models, and highlights the importance of pro-inflammatory signalling in the immune response against viral infections.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.ppat.1002430

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS Pathog

Publication Date

12/2011

Volume

7

Keywords

Animals, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Humans, Mice, Mutation, NF-kappa B, Protein Binding, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Vaccinia virus, Viral Proteins, Virulence