Membrane interactions and uncoating of Aichi virus: a picornavirus that lacks a VP4

Kobuviruses are an unusual and poorly characterized genus within the picornavirus family and can cause gastrointestinal enteric disease in humans, livestock, and pets. The human kobuvirus Aichi virus (AiV) can cause severe gastroenteritis and deaths in children below the age of 5 years; however, this is a very rare occurrence. During the assembly of most picornaviruses (e.g., poliovirus, rhinovirus, and foot-and-mouth disease virus), the capsid precursor protein VP0 is cleaved into VP4 and VP2. However, kobuviruses retain an uncleaved VP0. From studies with other picornaviruses, it is known that VP4 performs the essential function of pore formation in membranes, which facilitates transfer of the viral genome across the endosomal membrane and into the cytoplasm for replication. Here, we employ genome exposure and membrane interaction assays to demonstrate that pH plays a critical role in AiV uncoating and membrane interactions. We demonstrate that incubation at low pH alters the exposure of hydrophobic residues within the capsid, enhances genome exposure, and enhances permeabilization of model membranes. Furthermore, using peptides we demonstrate that the N terminus of VP0 mediates membrane pore formation in model membranes, indicating that this plays an analogous function to VP4. IMPORTANCE To initiate infection, viruses must enter a host cell and deliver their genome into the appropriate location. The picornavirus family of small nonenveloped RNA viruses includes significant human and animal pathogens and is also a model to understand the process of cell entry. Most picornavirus capsids contain the internal protein VP4, generated from cleavage of a VP0 precursor. During entry, VP4 is released from the capsid. In enteroviruses this forms a membrane pore, which facilitates genome release into the cytoplasm. Due to high levels of sequence similarity, it is expected to play the same role for other picornaviruses. Some picornaviruses, such as Aichi virus, retain an intact VP0, and it is unknown how these viruses rearrange their capsids and induce membrane permeability in the absence of VP4. Here, we have used Aichi virus as a model VP0 virus to test for conservation of function between VP0 and VP4. This could enhance understanding of pore function and lead to development of novel therapeutic agents that block entry.

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