Mammalian cell stress responses during Semliki Forest virus infection
Ferguson, Mhairi Catriona
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Virus infection of mammalian cells induces several stress mechanisms, including autophagy and type-I interferon (IFN). Autophagy, a cellular homeostatic mechanism in which intracellular materials are sequestered into double-membrane vesicles and targeted to lysosomes for degradation, is also activated in response to virus infection. Most positive single-stranded RNA viruses studied to date utilise autophagy to increase virus replication. IFN is a potent anti-viral mechanism, which can be divided into two parts: (i) induction and secretion of IFN and (ii) IFN signalling and priming of uninfected cells for a rapid response upon infection and induction of an anti-viral state in infected cells. Alphaviruses are medically important RNA viruses. Semliki Forest virus (SFV) provides a well-characterised model for studying alphavirus infection. A number of strains have been identified, which differ in virulence in adult mice. In this thesis three hypotheses were investigated: (i) that SFV infection induces autophagy in cell culture and utilises this response to enhance virus replication, (ii) that the quality, quantity and/or protective efficacy of the IFN response differ between virus strains and between human and murine cells and (iii) that non-structural protein (nsP)-2 and/or nsP3 antagonise the IFN response. SFV4, SFV L10 and SFV A7(74) infection induced autophagy in Huh7 cells as early as one hour post-infection. Pharmacological induction or inhibition of autophagy had no affect on SFV4 replication, except at a very low multiplicity of infection. NsP3, capsid and dsRNA rarely colocalised with the autophagosome marker LC3. Taken together these results indicate that SFV does not use autophagosomes for replication and autophagy is not important in controlling SFV4 infection at a high MOI, at least in Huh7 cells. However, autophagy may be important in controlling SFV4 spread at a low MOI. An IFN bioassay was established. In fibroblasts, SFV4, SFV L10 and SFV A7(74) induced relatively little IFN in comparison to that induced by Sendai virus. In human fibroblasts, similar levels of IFN were induced by all three virus strains. In mouse fibroblasts, SFV4 induced more IFN than SFV L10. Treatment of fibroblasts with IFN prior to infection greatly reduced, but did not abolish, the replication and spread of all three strains. Therefore, SFV is sensitive to IFN. Analysis of IFN signalling demonstrated that all three strains of SFV inhibited STAT1 phosphorylation during infection of fibroblasts. The growth and viability of SFV infected cells varied between human and mouse cells. The complete genetic sequences of SFV L10 and SFV A7(74) were determined using Solexa (Illumina) sequencing and compared to the sequence of SFV4. The sequences of SFV L10 and SFV4 were extremely similar; only seven differences were identified. Multiple amino acid substitutions were identified in SFV A7(74) compared to SFV4, these mostly mapped to nsP3. To investigate the hypothesis that nsP2 and or nsP3 antagonise the IFN response, two virus mutants were studied: SFV4nsP2RDR and SFV4nsP3Δ50. SFV4nsP2RDR encodes a point mutation in the nuclear localisation signal of nsP2, which largely restricts nsP2 to the cell cytoplasm. SFV4nsP3Δ50 contains a deletion of 50 amino acids in the C-terminus hyperphosphorylated region of nsP3. Neither mutant inhibited STAT1 phosphorylation as efficiently as WT SFV4; SFV4nsP2RDR was particularly poor at inhibiting STAT1 phosphorylation. Both mutants induced more IFN in fibroblasts than SFV4. In summary, autophagy had a limited affect on SFV replication. In contrast, strains of SFV were highly sensitive to IFN, but antagonised this response through the nsP2 protein inhibiting STAT1 phosphorylation.