Fitness selection of hyperfusogenic measles virus F proteins associated with neuropathogenic phenotypes
Measles virus (MeV) is resurgent and caused >200,000 deaths in 2019. MeV infection can establish a chronic latent infection of the brain that can recrudesce months to years after recovery from the primary infection. Recrudescent MeV leads to fatal subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) or measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE) as the virus spreads across multiple brain regions. Most clinical isolates of SSPE/MIBE strains show mutations in the fusion (F) gene that result in a hyperfusogenic phenotype in vitro and allow for efficient spread in primary human neurons. Wild-type MeV receptor binding protein (RBP) is indispensable for manifesting these mutant F phenotypes, even though neurons lack canonical MeV receptors (CD150/SLAMF1 or Nectin-4). How such hyperfusogenic F mutants are selected for, and whether they confer a fitness advantage for efficient neuronal spread is unresolved. To better understand the fitness landscape that allows for the selection of such hyperfusogenic F mutants, we conducted a screen of [≥]3.1x105 MeV-F point mutants in their genomic context. We rescued and amplified our genomic MeV-F mutant libraries in BSR-T7 cells under conditions where MeV-F-T461I (a known SSPE mutant), but not wild-type MeV can spread. We recovered known SSPE mutants but also characterized at least 15 novel hyperfusogenic F mutations with a SSPE phenotype. Structural mapping of these mutants onto the pre-fusion MeV-F trimer confirm and extend our understanding of the fusion regulatory domains in MeV-F. Our list of hyperfusogenic F mutants is a valuable resource for future studies into MeV neuropathogenesis and the regulation of paramyxovirus fusion. SignificanceMeasles remains a major cause of infant death globally. On rare occasions, measles virus infection of the central nervous system (CNS) leads to a fatal progressive inflammation of the brain many years after the initial infection. MeV isolates from such CNS infections harbor fusion (F) protein mutations that result in a hyperfusogenic phenotype. The small number of hyperfusogenic MeV-F mutants identified thus far limits our ability to understand how these mutations are selected in the context of CNS infections. We performed a saturating mutagenesis screen of MeV-F to identify a large set of mutants that would mimic the hyperfusogenic phenotype of MeV-F in CNS infection. Characterization of these mutants shed light on other paramyxoviruses known to establish chronic CNS infections.
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