, Volume 150, Issue 9, pp 1857-1870
Date: 14 Apr 2005

Effects of deletions of kelch-like genes on cowpox virus biological properties

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Cowpox virus (CPXV) strain GRI-90 contains six genes encoding kelch-like proteins. All six proteins contain both, the N-terminal BTB domain and the C-terminal kelch domain. We constructed mutant variants of a CPXV strain with targeted deletions of one to four genes of the kelch family, namely D11L, C18L, G3L, and A57R. As kelch genes are located in terminal variable regions of the CPXV genome, we studied the relationship of these genes with integral biological characteristics such as virulence, host range, reproduction in vitro and in ovo (in chicken embryos). It was demonstrated that the following effects occurred in a gene dose dependent manner with an increase of the number of genes deleted: (1) range of sensitive cells altered – deletion mutants lacking three genes displayed a considerably decreased ability to reproduce in MDCK cells; mutants lacking four genes lost this ability completely; (2) analysis of pocks formed by mutants with deletion of three and four kelch-like genes on chorioallantoic membranes of chicken embryos demonstrated that pock size and virus yield were significantly decreased; (3) light microscopic analysis of the pocks revealed impaired proliferation and reduced vascularisation in the pock region. More alterations were detected by electron microscopic analysis: the reproduction of mutants results in a reduction of the number of mature virions formed, and in many cells this process was arrested at the stage of assembly of immature virions; and (4) the evaluation of LD50 and body weight loss in BALB/c mice infected intranasally with CPXVs revealed a reduction of the virulence of the deletion mutants, which became statistically significant when four kelch-like genes were excised.