Repair of an Attenuated Low-Passage Murine Cytomegalovirus Bacterial Artificial Chromosome Identifies a Novel Spliced Gene Essential for Salivary Gland Tropism

Alec James Redwood, Laura Lee Masters, Baca Chan, Shay Leary, Cathy Forbes, Stipan Jonjić, Vanda Juranić Lisnić, Berislav Lisnić, Lee Martin Smith

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Abstract

The cloning of herpesviruses as bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) has revolutionized the study of herpesvirus biology, allowing rapid and precise manipulation of viral genomes. Several clinical strains of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) have been cloned as BACs; however, no low-passage strains of murine CMV (MCMV), which provide a model mimicking these isolates, have been cloned. Here, the low-passage G4 strain of was BAC cloned. G4 carries an m157 gene that does not ligate the natural killer (NK) cell-activating receptor, Ly49H, meaning that unlike laboratory strains of MCMV, this virus replicates well in C57BL/6 mice. This BAC clone exhibited normal replication during acute infection in the spleen and liver but was attenuated for salivary gland tropism. Next-generation sequencing revealed a C-to-A mutation at nucleotide position 188422, located in the 3' untranslated region of sgg1, a spliced gene critical for salivary gland tropism. Repair of this mutation restored tropism for the salivary glands. Transcriptional analysis revealed a novel spliced gene within the sgg1 locus. This small open reading frame (ORF), sgg1.1, starts at the 3' end of the first exon of sgg1 and extends exon 2 of sgg1. This shorter spliced gene is prematurely terminated by the nonsense mutation at nt 188422. Sequence analysis of tissue culture-passaged virus demonstrated that sgg1.1 was stable, although other mutational hot spots were identified. The G4 BAC will allow in vivo studies in a broader range of mice, avoiding the strong NK cell responses seen in B6 mice with other MCMV BAC-derived MCMVs.IMPORTANCE Murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) is widely used as a model of human CMV (HCMV) infection. However, this model relies on strains of MCMV that have been serially passaged in the laboratory for over four decades. These laboratory strains have been cloned as bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs), which permits rapid and precise manipulation. Low-passage strains of MCMV add to the utility of the mouse model of HCMV infection but do not exist as cloned BACs. This study describes the first such low-passage MCMV BAC. This BAC-derived G4 was initially attenuated in vivo, with subsequent full genomic sequencing revealing a novel spliced transcript required for salivary gland tropism. These data suggest that MCMV, like HCMV, undergoes tissue culture adaptation that can limit in vivo growth and supports the use of BAC clones as a way of standardizing viral strains and minimizing interlaboratory strain variation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Virology
Volume94
Issue number22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020

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