The Endonucleolytic RNA Cleavage Function of nsp1 of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Promotes the Production of Infectious Virus Particles in Specific Human Cell Lines

Keisuke Nakagawa, Krishna Narayanan, Masami Wada, Vsevolod Popov, Maria Cajimat, Ralph S. Baric, Shinji Makino

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3 Scopus citations


Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) nsp1 suppresses host gene expression in expressed cells by inhibiting translation and inducing endonucleolytic cleavage of host mRNAs, the latter of which leads to mRNA decay. We examined the biological functions of nsp1 in infected cells and its role in virus replication by using wild-type MERS-CoV and two mutant viruses with specific mutations in the nsp1; one mutant lacked both biological functions, while the other lacked the RNA cleavage function but retained the translation inhibition function. In Vero cells, all three viruses replicated efficiently with similar replication kinetics, while wild-type virus induced stronger host translational suppression and host mRNA degradation than the mutants, demonstrating that nsp1 suppressed host gene expression in infected cells. The mutant viruses replicated less efficiently than wild-type virus in Huh-7 cells, HeLa-derived cells, and 293-derived cells, the latter two of which stably expressed a viral receptor protein. In 293-derived cells, the three viruses accumulated similar levels of nsp1 and major viral structural proteins and did not induce IFN-β and IFN-λ mRNAs; however, both mutants were unable to generate intracellular virus particles as efficiently as wild-type virus, leading to inefficient production of infectious viruses. These data strongly suggest that the endonucleolytic RNA cleavage function of the nsp1 promoted MERS-CoV assembly and/or budding in a 293-derived cell line. MERS-CoV nsp1 represents the first CoV gene 1 protein that plays an important role in virus assembly/budding and is the first identified viral protein whose RNA cleavage-inducing function promotes virus assembly/budding.IMPORTANCE MERS-CoV represents a high public health threat. Because CoV nsp1 is a major viral virulence factor, uncovering the biological functions of MERS-CoV nsp1 could contribute to our understanding of MERS-CoV pathogenicity and spur development of medical countermeasures. Expressed MERS-CoV nsp1 suppresses host gene expression, but its biological functions for virus replication and effects on host gene expression in infected cells are largely unexplored. We found that nsp1 suppressed host gene expression in infected cells. Our data further demonstrated that nsp1, which was not detected in virus particles, promoted virus assembly or budding in a 293-derived cell line, leading to efficient virus replication. These data suggest that nsp1 plays an important role in MERS-CoV replication and possibly affects virus-induced diseases by promoting virus particle production in infected hosts. Our data, which uncovered an unexpected novel biological function of nsp1 in virus replication, contribute to further understanding of the MERS-CoV replication strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018



  • MERS coronavirus
  • nsp1
  • virus assembly/budding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology

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