Myxoma virus protein M029 is a dual function immunomodulator that inhibits PKR and also conscripts RHA/DHX9 to promote expanded host tropism and viral replication.

Research paper by Masmudur M MM Rahman, Jia J Liu, Winnie M WM Chan, Stefan S Rothenburg, Grant G McFadden

Indexed on: 16 Jul '13Published on: 16 Jul '13Published in: PLoS pathogens


Myxoma virus (MYXV)-encoded protein M029 is a member of the poxvirus E3 family of dsRNA-binding proteins that antagonize the cellular interferon signaling pathways. In order to investigate additional functions of M029, we have constructed a series of targeted M029-minus (vMyx-M029KO and vMyx-M029ID) and V5-tagged M029 MYXV. We found that M029 plays a pivotal role in determining the cellular tropism of MYXV in all mammalian cells tested. The M029-minus viruses were able to replicate only in engineered cell lines that stably express a complementing protein, such as vaccinia E3, but underwent abortive or abated infection in all other tested mammalian cell lines. The M029-minus viruses were dramatically attenuated in susceptible host European rabbits and caused no observable signs of myxomatosis. Using V5-tagged M029 virus, we observed that M029 expressed as an early viral protein is localized in both the nuclear and cytosolic compartments in virus-infected cells, and is also incorporated into virions. Using proteomic approaches, we have identified Protein Kinase R (PKR) and RNA helicase A (RHA)/DHX9 as two cellular binding partners of M029 protein. In virus-infected cells, M029 interacts with PKR in a dsRNA-dependent manner, while binding with DHX9 was not dependent on dsRNA. Significantly, PKR knockdown in human cells rescued the replication defect of the M029-knockout viruses. Unexpectedly, this rescue of M029-minus virus replication by PKR depletion could then be reversed by RHA/DHX9 knockdown in human monocytic THP1 cells. This indicates that M029 not only inhibits generic PKR anti-viral pathways, but also binds and conscripts RHA/DHX9 as a pro-viral effector to promote virus replication in THP1 cells. Thus, M029 is a critical host range and virulence factor for MYXV that is required for replication in all mammalian cells by antagonizing PKR-mediated anti-viral functions, and also conscripts pro-viral RHA/DHX9 to promote viral replication specifically in myeloid cells.