Inactivating Three Interferon Antagonists Attenuates Pathogenesis of an Enteric Coronavirus

Xufang Deng, Alexandra C Buckley, Angela Pillatzki, Kelly M Lager, Kay S Faaberg, Susan C Baker
Journal of Virology 2020 June 17
Coronaviruses (CoVs) have repeatedly emerged from wildlife hosts into humans and livestock animals to cause epidemics with significant morbidity and mortality. CoVs infect various organs including respiratory and enteric systems, as exemplified by the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2. The constellation of viral factors that contribute to developing enteric disease remains elusive. Here, we investigated CoV interferon antagonists for their contribution to enteric pathogenesis. Using an infectious clone of an enteric CoV, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (icPEDV), we generated viruses with inactive versions of interferon antagonist nonstructural proteins 1, 15, and 16 individually, or combined in one virus designated icPEDV-mut4. Interferon-responsive PK1 cells were infected with these viruses and produced higher levels of interferon responses, as compared to wild-type icPEDV infection. icPEDV-mut4 elicited robust interferon responses and was severely impaired for replication in PK1 cells. To evaluate viral pathogenesis, piglets were infected with either icPEDV or icPEDV-mut4. While the icPEDV-infected piglets exhibited clinical disease, the icPEDV-mut4-infected piglets showed no clinical symptoms and exhibited normal intestinal pathology at day 2 post-infection. The icPEDV-mut4 replicated in the intestinal tract, as revealed by detection of viral RNA in fecal swabs, with sequence analysis documenting genetic stability of the input strain. Importantly, icPEDV-mut4 infection elicited IgG and neutralizing antibody responses to PEDV. These results identify nsp1, nsp15, and nsp16 as virulence factors that contribute to the development of PEDV-induced diarrhea in swine. Inactivating these CoV interferon antagonists is a rational approach for generating candidate vaccines to prevent disease and spread of enteric CoVs, including SARS-CoV-2. Author summary Emerging coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and porcine CoVs, can infect enterocytes, cause diarrhea, and be shed in the feces. New approaches are needed to understand enteric pathogenesis and develop vaccines and therapeutics to prevent the spread of these viruses. Here, we exploit a reverse genetic system for an enteric CoV, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), and outline an approach of genetically inactivating highly conserved viral factors known to limit the host innate immune response to infection. Our study reveals that generating PEDV with inactive versions of three viral interferon antagonists, nonstructural proteins 1, 15 and 16, results in a highly attenuated virus that does not cause diarrhea in animals, and elicits a neutralizing antibody response in virus-infected animals. This strategy may be useful for generating live-attenuated vaccine candidates that prevent disease and fecal spread of enteric CoVs, including SARS-CoV-2.

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