Molecular analysis of J-virus and Beilong virus using reverse genetics
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The emergence of viruses in the family Paramyxoviridae, especially those such as Hendra virus and Nipah virus (NiV) that are zoonotic, highlighted the severity of disease that could be caused by infection with viruses belonging to this family. In addition to causing disease outbreaks, several newly discovered paramyxoviruses were found to have unique genetic features, which provoked renewed interest in the study of previously unclassified or uncharacterised viruses in this family. J-virus (JPV) was isolated from wild mice, in Queensland, Australia, in 1972, and has been suggested to be a natural respiratory pathogen of mice. Beilong virus (BeiPV), another paramyxovirus, was first isolated from human mesangial cells in Beijing, China, in 2003, and was subsequently detected in rat mesangial cells. Following initial characterisation, the genomes of JPV and BeiPV were found to contain two genes, SH and TM, not common to other paramyxoviruses, as well as an extended attachment protein gene. BeiPV has the largest genome in the family Paramyxoviridae, which is, in fact, larger than that of any other virus within the order Mononegavirales. The genetic material of paramyxoviruses is not amenable to manipulation via classical genetics; a reverse genetics approach was therefore employed to study the evolution and classification of JPV and BeiPV. Minireplicon systems utilising green fluorescent protein as a reporter were established for JPV, BeiPV and NiV, and were used to better assess the taxonomic status of JPV and BeiPV, and to determine the relationship between these viruses and henipaviruses, which also have exceptionally large genomes. These studies indicate that JPV and BeiPV are closely related and should be classified in the same genus and their replication and transcription machinery is different from that of the henipaviruses.To gain an understanding of the biology of JPV and BeiPV, viral surface proteins from JPV were expressed and evaluated. Chimeric JPV virions containing recombinant surface proteins were generated and electron microscopy was used to determine the localisation of the proteins encoded by those JPV genes which are uncommon in other paramyxoviruses. Analysis of the attachment protein gene of JPV indicated that the virus was able to assemble an exceptionally large protein (156 kDa) into the virion structure, providing evidence in support of the hypothesis that JPV and BeiPV may represent an ancient lineage of viruses within the family Paramyxoviridae. In order to determine tissue tropism of JPV during experimental infection and to aid future work with a full-length JPV infectious clone, a real-time PCR assay for JPV was developed and assessed on tissues collected from mice infected with JPV. A multiplex microsphere assay for JPV and BeiPV was developed and used to analyse the seroprevalence of these viruses in Australian and Malaysian rodents. Although there is currently no evidence for disease caused by JPV or BeiPV, this does not preclude the emergence of a zoonotic rodent paramyxovirus related to these viruses. If this were to occur, the tools for virus detection and serological monitoring are now established.
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