Mutations within the nuclear localization signal of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus nucleocapsid protein attenuate virus replication

Changhee Lee, Douglas Hodgins, Jay G. Calvert, Siao Kun W. Welch, Rika Jolie, Dongwan Yoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is an RNA virus replicating in the cytoplasm, but the nucleocapsid (N) protein is specifically localized to the nucleus and nucleolus in virus-infected cells. A 'pat7' motif of 41-PGKK(N/S)KK has previously been identified in the N protein as the functional nuclear localization signal (NLS); however, the biological consequences of N protein nuclear localization are unknown. In the present study, the role of N protein nuclear localization during infection was investigated in pigs using an NLS-null mutant virus. When two lysines at 43 and 44 at the NLS locus were substituted to glycines, the modified NLS with 41-PGGGNKK restricted the N protein to the cytoplasm. This NLS-null mutation was introduced into a full-length infectious cDNA clone of PRRSV. Upon transfection of cells, the NLS-null full-length clone induced cytopathic effects and produced infectious progeny. The NLS-null virus grew to a titer 100-fold lower than that of wild-type virus. To examine the response to NLS-null PRRSV in the natural host, three groups of pigs, consisting of seven animals per group, were intranasally inoculated with wild-type, placebo, or NLS-null virus, and the animals were maintained for 4 weeks. The NLS-null-infected pigs had a significantly shorter mean duration of viremia than wild-type-infected pigs but developed significantly higher titers of neutralizing antibodies. Mutations occurred at the NLS locus in one pig during viremia, and four types of mutations were identified: 41-PGRGNKK, 41-PGGRNKK, and 41-PGRRNKK, and 41-PGKKSKK. Both wild-type and NLS-null viruses persisted in the tonsils for at least 4 weeks, and the NLS-null virus persisting in the tonsils was found to be mutated to either 41-PGRGNKK or 41-PGGRNKK in all pigs. No other mutation was found in the N gene. All types of reversions which occurred during viremia and persistence were able to translocate the mutated N proteins to the nucleus, indicating a strong selection pressure for reversion at the NLS locus of the N protein in vivo. Reversions from NLS-null to functional NLS in the tonsils suggest a possible correlation of viral persistence with N protein nuclear localization. These results show that N protein nuclear localization is non-essential for PRRSV multiplication but may play an important role in viral attenuation and in pathogenesis in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-250
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Arterivirus
  • Infectious clone
  • Nidovirus
  • Nuclear localization signal
  • Nucleocapsid
  • PRRS
  • Persistence
  • Reverse genetics
  • Selection pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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