A reverse genetics approach which allows the generation of infectious defective rabies virus (RV) particles entirely from plasmid-encoded genomes and proteins (K.-K. Conzelmann and M. Schnell, J. Virol. 68:713-719, 1994) was used to investigate the ability of a heterologous lyssavirus glycoprotein (G) and chimeric G constructs to function in the formation of infectious RV-like particles. Virions containing a chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene (SDI-CAT) were generated in cells simultaneously expressing the genomic RNA analog, the RV N, P, M, and L proteins, and engineered G constructs from transfected plasmids. The infectivity of particles was determined by a CAT assay after passage to helper virus-infected cells. The heterologous G protein from Eth-16 virus (Mokola virus, lyssavirus serotype 3) as well as a construct in which the ectodomain of RV G was fused to the cytoplasmic and transmembrane domains of the Eth-16 virus G rescued infectious SDI-CAT particles. In contrast, a chimeric protein composed of the amino-terminal half of the Eth-16 virus G and the carboxy-terminal half of RV G failed to produce infectious particles. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to convert the antigenic site III of RV G to the corresponding sequence of Eth-16 G. This chimeric protein rescued infectious SDI-CAT particles as efficiently as RV G. Virions containing the chimeric protein were specifically neutralized by an anti-Eth-16 virus serum and escaped neutralization by a monoclonal antibody directed against RV antigenic site III. The results show that entire structural domains as well as short surface epitopes of lyssavirus G proteins may be exchanged without affecting the structure required to mediate infection of cells
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