The vaccinia virus E2L (VACWR058) gene is conserved in all sequenced chordopoxviruses and is predicted to encode an 86-kDa protein with no recognizable functional motifs or nonpoxvirus homologs. Although the region immediately upstream of the open reading frame lacked optimal consensus promoter motifs, expression of the E2 protein occurred after viral DNA replication. Transfection studies, however, indicated that the promoter was weak compared to well-characterized intermediate and late promoters. The E2 protein was present in mature virions purified from infected cells but was more abundant in extracellular enveloped forms. Despite the conservation of the E2L gene in chordopoxviruses, deletion mutants could be isolated from both the WR and IHD-J strains of vaccinia virus. These null mutants produced very small plaques in all cell lines tested, reduced amounts of mature infectious virions, and very low numbers of extracellular virions. Nevertheless, viral protein synthesis appeared qualitatively and quantitatively normal. The defect in extracellular virus formation was corroborated by electron microscopy, which also showed some aberration in the wrapping of virions by cisternal membranes. Extracellular virions that did form, however, were able to induce actin tail formation
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