Graham RL, Sims AC, Brockway SM, Baric RS, Denison MR. The nsp2 replicase proteins of murine hepatitis virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus are dispensable for viral replication. Journal of virology. 2005 Nov;79(79). 13399-411. PMID: 16227261 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC1262610
The positive-stranded RNA genome of the coronaviruses is translated from ORF1 to yield polyproteins that are proteolytically processed into intermediate and mature nonstructural proteins (nsps). Murine hepatitis virus (MHV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) polyproteins incorporate 16 protein domains (nsps), with nsp1 and nsp2 being the most variable among the coronaviruses and having no experimentally confirmed or predicted functions in replication. To determine if nsp2 is essential for viral replication, MHV and SARS-CoV genome RNA was generated with deletions of the nsp2 coding sequence (MHVDeltansp2 and SARSDeltansp2, respectively). Infectious MHVDeltansp2 and SARSDeltansp2 viruses recovered from electroporated cells had 0.5 to 1 log10 reductions in peak titers in single-cycle growth assays, as well as a reduction in viral RNA synthesis that was not specific for any positive-stranded RNA species. The Deltansp2 mutant viruses lacked expression of both nsp2 and an nsp2-nsp3 precursor, but cleaved the engineered chimeric nsp1-nsp3 cleavage site as efficiently as the native nsp1-nsp2 cleavage site. Replication complexes in MHVDeltansp2-infected cells lacked nsp2 but were morphologically indistinguishable from those of wild-type MHV by immunofluorescence. nsp2 expressed in cells by stable retroviral transduction was specifically recruited to viral replication complexes upon infection with MHVDeltansp2. These results demonstrate that while nsp2 of MHV and SARS-CoV is dispensable for viral replication in cell culture, deletion of the nsp2 coding sequence attenuates viral growth and RNA synthesis. These findings also provide a system for the study of determinants of nsp targeting and function.