Vaccinia virus uses retromer-independent cellular retrograde transport pathways to facilitate the wrapping of intracellular mature virions during viral morphogenesis

Poxviruses such as Vaccinia virus (VACV) undertake a complex cytoplasmic replication cycle which involves morphogenesis through four distinct virion forms, and includes a crucial “wrapping” step whereby intracellular mature virions (IMVs) are wrapped in two additional membranes to form intracellular enveloped virions (IEVs). To determine if cellular retrograde transport pathways were required for this wrapping step we examined VACV morphogenesis in cells with reduced expression of the tetrameric tethering factor complex GARP (Golgi-associated retrograde pathway complex), a central component of retrograde transport. VACV multi-step replication was significantly impaired in cells transfected with siRNA targeting the GARP complex or in cells with a mutated GARP complex. Detailed analysis revealed that depletion of the GARP complex resulted in a reduction in the number of IEVs, thereby linking retrograde transport with the wrapping of IMVs. In addition foci of viral wrapping membrane proteins without an associated internal core accumulated in cells with a mutated GARP complex, suggesting that impaired retrograde transport uncouples nascent IMVs from the IEV membranes at the site of wrapping. Finally, small molecule inhibitors of retrograde transport strongly suppressed VACV multi-step growth in vitro and reduced weight loss and clinical signs in an in vivo murine model of systemic poxviral disease. This work links cellular retrograde transport pathways with morphogenesis of poxviruses and identifies a panel of novel inhibitors of poxvirus replication.Importance: Cellular retrograde transport pathways traffic cargo from endosomes to the trans-Golgi network and are a key part of the intracellular membrane network. This work reveals the prototypic poxvirus Vaccinia virus (VACV) exploits cellular retrograde transport pathways to facilitate the wrapping of intracellular mature virions and therefore promote the production of extracellular virus. Inhibition of retrograde transport by small molecule inhibitors reduced replication of VACV in cell culture and alleviated disease in mice experimentally infected with VACV. This research provides fundamental new knowledge about the “wrapping” step of poxvirus morphogenesis, furthers our knowledge of the complex cellular retrograde pathways, and identifies a new group of anti-poxvirus drugs.

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