Orthopoxviruses encode three serpin homologs-SPI-1, SPI-2 and SPI-3-of which SPI-2 has been well characterized as an inhibitor of ICE-like proteases. A rabbitpox virus SPI-1 deletion mutant exhibited a host range restriction in human lung A549 and pig kidney 15 cell lines that was attributed to apoptosis. Here we report that replication of a vaccinia virus SPI-1 deletion mutant (ΔSPI-1) was restricted in primary human keratinocytes as well as A549 cells. Although chromatin condensation was detected in some A549 cells, other morphological or biochemical signs of apoptosis including DNA fragmentation, cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase or nuclear mitotic apparatus protein, or caspase 3 activation were not found. Moreover, ΔSPI-1 protected A549 cells from apoptosis induced by tumor necrosis factor, whereas the corresponding ΔSPI-2 mutant did not. Further studies indicated undiminished amounts of vaccinia virus early mRNA and replicated DNA in the absence of the SPI-1 product. However, there were reduced amounts of viral intermediate and late mRNAs, viral late proteins, cleaved core proteins, and virus particles. These data suggested that apoptosis is not the determining factor in the host range restriction of ΔSPI-1 and that the SPI-1 gene product is needed to allow efficient expression of intermediate and late genes in A549 cells.
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