Targeted deletion of glycoprotein B gene by CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease inhibits Gallid herpesvirus type 3 in dually-infected Marek's disease virus-transformed lymphoblastoid cell line MSB-1

Marek's disease virus (MDV) is a member of the genus Mardivirus in the subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae. There are 3 different serotypes of MDV designated as MDV-1 (Gallid herpesvirus type 2), MDV-2 (Gallid herpesvirus type 3), and MDV-3 (Meleagrid herpesvirus 1, herpesvirus of turkeys, HVT). MDV-1 is the only serotype that induces Marek's disease (MD), a lymphoproliferative disorder resulting in aggressive T-cell lymphomas and paralytic symptoms. In the lymphomas and lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) derived from them, MDV establishes latent infection with limited viral gene expression. The latent viral genome in LCL can be activated by co-cultivation with chicken embryo fibroblast (CEF) monolayers. MSB-1, one of the first MDV-transformed LCL established from the splenic lymphoma, is distinct in harbouring both the oncogenic MDV-1 and non-oncogenic MDV-2 viruses. Following the successful application of CRISPR/Cas9 editing approach for precise knockdown of the MDV-1 genes in LCL, we describe here the targeted deletion of MDV-2 glycoprotein B (gB) in MSB-1 cells. Due to the essential nature of gB for infectivity, the production of MDV-2 plaques on CEF was completely abolished in the MDV-2-gB-deleted MSB-1 cells. Our study has demonstrated that the CRISPR/Cas9 system can be used for targeted inactivation of the co-infecting MDV-2 without affecting the MDV-1 in the MSB-1 cell line. Successful inactivation of MDV-2 demonstrated here also points towards the possibility of using targeted gene editing as an antiviral strategy against pathogenic MDV-1 and other viruses infecting chickens.

Importance Marek's disease (MD) is a lymphoproliferative disease of chickens characterized by rapid-onset lymphomas in multiple organs and by infiltration into peripheral nerves, causing paralysis. Lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) derived from MD lymphomas have served as valuable resources to improve understanding of distinct aspects of virus-host interactions in transformed cells including transformation, latency and reactivation. MDV-transformed LCL MSB-1, derived from spleen lymphoma induced by the BC-1 strain of MDV, has a unique feature of harbouring an additional non-pathogenic MDV-2 strain HPRS-24. By targeted deletion of essential gene glycoprotein B from the MDV-2 genome within the MSB-1 cells, we demonstrated the total inhibition of MDV-2 virus replication on co-cultivated CEF, with no effect on MDV-1 replication. The identified viral genes critical for reactivation/inhibition of viruses will be useful as targets for development of de novo disease resistance in chickens to avian pathogens.

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