The vaccinia virus H5 gene encodes a 22.3-kDa phosphoprotein that is expressed during both the early and late phases of viral gene expression. It is a major component of virosomes and has been implicated in viral transcription and, as a substrate of the B1 kinase, may participate in genome replication. To enable a genetic analysis of the role of H5 during the viral life cycle, we used clustered charge-to-alanine mutagenesis in an attempt to create a temperature-sensitive (ts) virus with a lesion in the H5 gene. Five mutant viruses were isolated, with one of them, tsH5-4, having a strong ts phenotype as assayed by plaque formation and measurements of 24-h viral yield. Surprisingly, no defects in genome replication or viral gene expression were detected at the nonpermissive temperature. By electron microscopy, we observed a profound defect in the early stages of virion morphogenesis, with arrest occurring prior to the formation of crescent membranes or immature particles. Nonfunctional, “curdled” virosomes were detected in tsH5-4 infections at the nonpermissive temperature. These structures appeared to revert to functional virosomes after a temperature shift to permissive conditions. We suggest an essential role for H5 in normal virosome formation and the initiation of virion morphogenesis. By constructing recombinant genomes containing two H5 alleles, wild type and H5-4, we determined that H5-4 exerted a dominant phenotype. tsH5-4 is the first example of a dominant ts mutant isolated and characterized in vaccinia virus
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