Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is caused by persistent measles virus (MV) infection in the central nervous system (CNS). Since human neurons, its main target cells, do not express known MV receptors (signaling lymphocyte activation molecule [SLAM] and nectin 4), it remains to be understood how MV infects and spreads in them. We have recently reported that fusion-enhancing substitutions in the extracellular domain of the MV fusion (F) protein (T461I and S103I/N462S/N465S), which are found in multiple SSPE virus isolates, promote MV spread in human neuroblastoma cell lines and brains of suckling hamsters. In this study, we show that hyperfusogenic viruses with these substitutions also spread efficiently in human primary neuron cultures without inducing syncytia. These substitutions were found to destabilize the prefusion conformation of the F protein trimer, thereby enhancing fusion activity. However, these hyperfusogenic viruses exhibited stronger cytopathology and produced lower titers at later time points in SLAM- or nectin 4-expressing cells compared to the wild-type MV. Although these viruses spread efficiently in the brains of SLAM knock-in mice, they did not in the spleens. Taken together, the results suggest that enhanced fusion activity is beneficial for MV to spread in neuronal cells where no cytopathology occurs, but detrimental to other types of cells due to strong cytopathology. Acquisition of enhanced fusion activity through substitutions in the extracellular domain of the F protein may be crucial for MV's extensive spread in the CNS and development of SSPE.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science