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A Coronavirus E Protein Is Present in Two Distinct Pools with Different Effects on Assembly and the Secretory Pathway.

Journal of virology (2015-07-03)
Jason W Westerbeck, Carolyn E Machamer
ABSTRACT

Coronaviruses (CoVs) assemble by budding into the lumen of the early Golgi complex prior to exocytosis. The small CoV envelope (E) protein plays roles in assembly, virion release, and pathogenesis. CoV E has a single hydrophobic domain (HD), is targeted to Golgi complex membranes, and has cation channel activity in vitro. However, the precise functions of the CoV E protein during infection are still enigmatic. Structural data for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV E protein suggest that it assembles into a homopentamer. Specific residues in the HD regulate the ion-conducting pore formed by SARS-CoV E in artificial bilayers and the pathogenicity of the virus during infection. The E protein from the avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) has dramatic effects on the secretory system which require residues in the HD. Here, we use the known structural data from SARS-CoV E to infer the residues important for ion channel activity and the oligomerization of IBV E. We present biochemical data for the formation of two distinct oligomeric pools of IBV E in transfected and infected cells and the residues required for their formation. A high-order oligomer of IBV E is required for the production of virus-like particles (VLPs), implicating this form of the protein in virion assembly. Additionally, disruption of the secretory pathway by IBV E correlates with a form that is likely monomeric, suggesting that the effects on the secretory pathway are independent of E ion channel activity. CoVs are important human pathogens with significant zoonotic potential, as demonstrated by the emergence of SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV. Progress has been made toward identifying potential vaccine candidates in mouse models of CoV infection, including the use of attenuated viruses that lack the CoV E protein or express E-protein mutants. However, no approved vaccines or antiviral therapeutics exist. We previously reported that the hydrophobic domain of the IBV E protein, a putative viroporin, causes disruption of the mammalian secretory pathway when exogenously expressed in cells. Understanding the mechanism of this disruption could lead to the identification of novel antiviral therapeutics. Here, we present biochemical evidence for two distinct oligomeric forms of IBV E, one essential for assembly and the other with a role in disruption of the secretory pathway. Discovery of two forms of CoV E protein will provide additional targets for antiviral therapeutics.

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