Efficient transmission of herpesviruses is essential for dissemination in host populations; however, little is known about the viral genes that mediate transmission, mostly due to a lack of natural virus-host model systems. Marek’s disease is a devastating herpesviral disease of chickens caused by Marek’s disease virus (MDV) and an excellent natural model to study skin-tropic herpesviruses and transmission. Like varicella zoster virus that causes chicken pox in humans, the only site where infectious cell-free MD virions are efficiently produced is in epithelial skin cells, a requirement for host-to-host transmission. Here, we enriched for heavily infected feather follicle epithelial skin cells of live chickens to measure both viral transcription and protein expression using combined short- and long-read RNA sequencing and LC/MS-MS bottom-up proteomics. Enrichment produced a previously unseen breadth and depth of viral peptide sequencing. We confirmed protein translation for 84 viral genes at high confidence (1% FDR) and correlated relative protein abundance with RNA expression levels. Using a proteogenomic approach, we confirmed translation of most well-characterized spliced viral transcripts and identified a novel, abundant isoform of the 14 kDa transcript family via IsoSeq transcripts, short-read intron-spanning sequencing reads, and a high-quality junction-spanning peptide identification. We identified peptides representing alternative start codon usage in several genes and putative novel microORFs at the 5’ ends of two core herpesviral genes, pUL47 and ICP4, along with strong evidence of independent transcription and translation of the capsid scaffold protein pUL26.5. Using a natural animal host model system to examine viral gene expression provides a robust, efficient, and meaningful way of validating results gathered from cell culture systems.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology