Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 2 (MEK2), a novel E2-interacting protein, promotes the growth of classical swine fever virus via attenuation of the JAK-STAT signaling pathway

Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular regulated kinase (MEK1/2/ERK1/2) cascade is involved in the replication of several members of the Flaviviridae family including hepatitis C virus and dengue virus. The effects of the cascade on the replication of classical swine fever virus (CSFV), a fatal pestivirus of pigs, remain unknown. In this study, MEK2 was identified as a novel binding partner of the E2 protein of CSFV using yeast two-hybrid screening. The E2-MEK2 interaction was confirmed by glutathione S-transferase pulldown, coimmunoprecipitation, and laser confocal microscopy assays. The C-termini of E2 [amino acids (aa) 890–1053] and MEK2 (aa 266–400) were mapped to be crucial for the interaction. Overexpression of MEK2 significantly promoted the replication of CSFV, whereas knockdown of MEK2 by lentivirus-mediated small hairpin RNAs dramatically inhibited CSFV replication. In addition, CSFV infection induced a biphasic activation of ERK1/2, the downstream signaling molecules of MEK2. Furthermore, the replication of CSFV was markedly inhibited in PK-15 cells treated with U0126, a specific inhibitor for MEK1/2/ERK1/2, whereas MEK2 did not affect CSFV replication after blocking the interferon-induced Janus kinase-signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK-STAT) signaling pathway by ruxolitinib, a JAK-STAT-specific inhibitor. Taken together, our results indicate that MEK2 positively regulates the replication of CSFV through inhibiting the JAK-STAT signaling pathway.IMPORTANCE Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 2 (MEK2) is a kinase that operates immediately upstream of extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) and links to Raf and ERK via phosphorylation. Currently, little is known about the role of MEK2 in the replication of classical swine fever virus (CSFV), a devastating porcine pestivirus. Here, we investigate the roles of MEK2 and the MEK2/ERK1/2 cascade in the growth of CSFV for the first time. We show that MEK2 positively regulates CSFV replication. Notably, we demonstrate that MEK2 promotes CSFV replication through inhibiting the interferon-induced JAK-STAT signaling pathway, a key antiviral pathway involved in the innate immunity. Our work reveals a novel role of MEK2 in CSFV infection and sheds light on the molecular basis by which pestiviruses interplay with the host cell.

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