Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a leading cause of acute respiratory tract infection in infants, as well as in the elderly and immunocompromised patients. No effective treatment or vaccine for hMPV is currently available. A recombinant hMPV lacking the G protein (rhMPV-ΔG) was recently developed as a potential vaccine candidate and shown to be attenuated in the respiratory tract of a rodent model of infection. The mechanism of its attenuation, as well as the role of G protein in modulation of hMPV-induced cellular responses in vitro, as well as in vivo, is currently unknown. In this study, we found that rhMPV-ΔG-infected airway epithelial cells produced higher levels of chemokines and type I interferon (IFN) compared to cells infected with rhMPV-WT. Infection of airway epithelial cells with rhMPV-ΔG enhanced activation of transcription factors belonging to the nuclear factor (NF)-κB and interferon regulatory factor (IRF) families, as revealed by increased nuclear translocation and/or phosphorylation of these transcription factors. Compared to rhMPV-WT, rhMPV-ΔG also increased IRF and NF-κB-dependent gene transcription, which was reversely inhibited by G protein expression. Since RNA helicases have been shown to play a fundamental role in initiating viral-induced cellular signaling, we investigated whether retinoic induced gene (RIG)-I was the target of G protein inhibitory activity. We found that indeed G protein associated with RIG-I and inhibited RIG-I-dependent gene transcription, identifying an important mechanism by which hMPV affects innate immune responses. This is the first study investigating the role of hMPV G protein in cellular signaling and identifies G as an important virulence factor, as it inhibits the production of important immune and antiviral mediators by targeting RIG-I, a major intracellular viral RNA sensor.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology