The hemagglutinin-esterase (HE) protein of mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) is an optional envelope protein present in only some MHV isolates. Its expression is regulated by the copy number of a UCUAA pentanucleotide sequence present in the leader sequence of the viral genomic RNA. The functional significance of this viral protein so far is not clear. In this report, we compared the neuropathogenicity of two MHV isolates, JHM(2) and JHM(3), which express different amounts of HE protein. Intracerebral inoculation of these two viruses into C57BL/6 mice showed that JHM(2), which expresses an abundant amount of HE protein, was more neurovirulent than JHM(3), which expresses very little HE. Histopathology showed that early in infection, JHM(2) infected primarily neurons, while JHM(3) infected mainly glial cells. JHM(3) eventually infected neurons and caused a delayed death relative to JHM(2)-infected mice, suggesting that the progression of JHM(3) infection in the central nervous system was slower than JHM(2). In vitro infection of JHM(3) in primary mixed glial cell cultures of astrocyte-enriched cultures yielded higher virus titers than JHM(2), mimicking the preferential growth of JHM(3) in glial cells in vivo. These findings suggest that the reduced neuropathogenicity of JHM(3) may correlate with its preferential growth in glial cells. Sequence analysis showed that the S genes of these two viruses are identical, thus ruling out the S gene as the cause of the difference in neuropathogenicity between these two viruses. We conclude that the HE protein contributes to viral neuropathogenicity by influencing either the rate of virus spread, viral cell tropism or both.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience