Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) infection induces interleukin (IL)-10 production and increased numbers of PRRSV-specific regulatory T-lymphocytes in infected pigs. In the present study, the roles of the nucleocapsid (N) protein in induction of IL-10 and CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ lymphocytes (Treg) were investigated. Transfection of porcine monocytederived dendritic cells (MoDCs) and pulmonary alveolar macrophages (PAMs) with a plasmid encoding N protein resulted in significant upregulation of IL-10 gene expression in the genetransfected cells. Structural conformation, but not nuclear localization, of the expressed N protein was indicated to be essential for the ability to induce IL-10. Furthermore, the presence of recombinant N proteins in cultured PBMCs increased the number of IL-10-producing lymphocytes. Strong induction of IL-10-producing cells and Treg was observed when using N protein-pulsed MoDCs, suggesting an important role of MoDCs in induction of IL-10 and Treg by the N protein. Neutralization of IL-10 by addition of an anti-IL-10 antibody in the culture system resulted in marked reduction of PRRSV-induced Treg in the cultured PBMCs. Together, the data demonstrate the immunomodulatory properties of the PRRSV N protein and the linkage between IL-10 production and development of PRRSV-induced Treg. Our results reveal an immunomodulatory function of the PRRSV N protein that may contribute to the unique immunological outcome observed following PRRSV infection.
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