Preparatory investigations for developing a transcript–based rotavirus reverse genetics system
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Reverse genetics systems that are based on either viral transcripts or cDNA genome segments cloned in plasmids have recently been reported for some of the dsRNA viruses of the Reoviridae family, namely African horsesickness virus, bluetongue virus and orthoreovirus. For rotaviruses, three reverse genetics systems which only allow the manipulation of a single genome segment have been described. These rotavirus single genome segment reverse genetics systems are not true stand-alone systems because they require a helper virus and a recombinant virus selection step. A true selection-free, plasmid- only or transcript-based reverse genetics system for rotaviruses is lacking. This study sought to identify and characterise the factors that need to be understood and overcome for the development of a rotavirus reverse genetics system using mRNA derived from the in vitro transcription of a consensus nucleotide sequence as well as from double-layered particles. The consensus whole genome sequence of the prototype rotavirus DS-1 and SA11 strains was determined using sequenceindependent whole genome amplification and 454® pyrosequencing. For the rotavirus DS-1 strain, a novel isoleucine in a minor population variant was found at position 397 in a hydrophobic region of VP4. NSP1 contained seven additional amino acids MKSLVEA at the N-terminal end due to an insertion in the consensus nucleotide sequence of genome segment 5. The first 34 nucleotides at the 5'- terminus and last 30 nucleotides at the 3'-terminal end of genome segment 10 (NSP4) of the DS-1 strain were determined in this study. The consensus genome segment 11 (NSP5/6) sequence was 821 bp in length, 148 bp longer than previously reported. The 454® pyrosequence data for a rotavirus SA11 sample with no known passage history revealed a mixed infection with two SA11 strains. One of the strains was a reassortant which contained genome segment 8 (NSP2) from the bovine rotavirus O agent. The other ten consensus genome segments of the two strains could not be differentiated. Novel minor population variants of genome segments 4 (VP4), 9 (VP7) and 10 (NSP4) were identified. Molecular clock phylogenetic analyses of the rotavirus SA11 genomes showed that the two SA11 strains were closely related to the original SA11-H96 strain isolated in 1958. Plasmids containing inserts of the consensus cDNA of the rotavirus DS-1 strain were purchased and used to generate exact capped transcripts by in vitro transcription with a T7 polymerase. Wild-type transcripts of rotavirus SA11 were obtained from in vitro transcription using purified rotavirus SA11 double-layered particles. The purified rotavirus DS-1 and SA11 transcripts were transfected into BSR, COS-7 and MA104 cells. Work on MA104 cells was discontinued due their very low transfection efficacy. In BSR and COS-7 cells, rotavirus DS-1 and SA11 transcripts induced cell death. However, no viable rotavirus was recovered following attempts to infect MA104 cells with the BSR and COS-7 transfected cell lysates. The cell death was determined to be due to apoptotic cell death mechanisms. Immunostaining showed that the DS-1 genome segment 6 (VP6) and SA11 transcripts were translated in transfected BSR and COS-7 cells. Based on visual inspection, the translation seemed to be higher in the retinoic acid-inducible gene-I (RIG-I) deficient BSR cells than in COS-7 cells. This suggested that the transfection of rotavirus transcripts induced an innate immune response which could lead to the development of an antiviral state. Therefore, the innate immune response to rotavirus transcripts was investigated in HEK 293H cells using qRT-PCR and western blot analyses. Results of this investigation showed that RIG-I, but not MDA5 sensed rotavirus transcripts in transfected HEK 293H cells. Furthermore, rotavirus transcripts induced high levels of cellular mRNA encoding the cytokines IFN-1β, IFN-λ1, CXCL10 and TNF-α. Other cytokines namely, IFN-α, IL-10, IL-12 p40 and the kinase RIP1 were not significantly induced. Inhibiting the RNA-dependent protein kinase R (PKR) reduced the induction of cytokines IFN-1β, IFN-λ1, CXCL10 and TNF-α, but the expression levels were not abrogated. The importance of a consensus sequence and the insights gained in the current study regarding the role of the innate immune response after transfection of rotavirus transcripts into cells in culture, should aid the development of a true rotavirus reverse genetics system.