Myxoma virus M156 is a specific inhibitor of rabbit PKR but contains a loss-of-function mutation in Australian virus isolates

Chen Peng, Sherry L. Haller, Masmudur M. Rahman, Grant McFadden, Stefan Rothenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Myxoma virus (MYXV) is a rabbit-specific poxvirus, which is highly virulent in European rabbits. The attenuation of MYXV and the increased resistance of rabbits following the release of MYXV in Australia is one of the best-documented examples of host-pathogen coevolution. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the restriction of MYXV infection to rabbits and MYXV attenuation in the field, we have studied the interaction of the MYXV protein M156 with the host antiviral protein kinase R (PKR). In yeast and cell-culture transfection assays, M156 only inhibited rabbit PKR but not PKR from other tested mammalian species. Infection assays with human HeLa PKR knock-down cells, which were stably transfected with human or rabbit PKR, revealed that only human but not rabbit PKR was able to restrict MYXV infection, whereas both PKRs were able to restrict replication of a vaccinia virus (VACV) strain that lacks the PKR inhibitors E3 and K3. Inactivation of M156R led to MYXV virus attenuation in rabbit cells, which was rescued by the ectopic expression of VACV E3 and K3. We further show that a mutation in the M156 encoding gene that was identified in more than 50% of MYXV field isolates from Australia resulted in an M156 variant that lost its ability to inhibit rabbit PKR and led to virus attenuation. The species-specific inhibition of rabbit PKR by M156 and the M156 loss-of-function in Australian MYXV field isolates might thus contribute to the species specificity of MYXV and to the attenuation in the field, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3855-3860
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 5 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Host-pathogen interaction
  • Myxoma virus
  • PKR
  • Poxvirus
  • Translational regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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