CRISPR/Cas9-Constructed Pseudorabies Virus Mutants Reveal the Importance of UL13 in Alphaherpesvirus Escape from Genome Silencing.
Latent and recurrent productive infection of long-living cells, such as neurons, enables alphaherpesviruses to persist in their host populations. Still, the viral factors involved in these events remain largely obscure. Using a complementation assay in compartmented primary peripheral nervous system (PNS) neuronal cultures, we previously reported that productive replication of axonally delivered genomes is facilitated by pseudorabies virus (PRV) tegument proteins. Here, we sought to unravel the role of tegument protein UL13 in this escape from silencing. We first constructed four new PRV mutants in the virulent Becker strain using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene replacement: (i) PRV Becker defective for UL13 expression (PRV ΔUL13), (ii) PRV where UL13 is fused to eGFP (PRV UL13-eGFP), and two control viruses (iii and iv) PRV where VP16 is fused with mTurquoise at either the N terminus (PRV mTurq-VP16) or the C terminus (PRV VP16-mTurq). Live-cell imaging of PRV capsids showed efficient retrograde transport after axonal infection with PRV UL13-eGFP, although we did not detect dual-color particles. However, immunofluorescence staining of particles in mid-axons indicated that UL13 might be cotransported with PRV capsids in PNS axons. Superinfecting nerve cell bodies with UV-inactivated PRV ΔUL13 failed to efficiently promote escape from genome silencing compared to UV-PRV wild type and UV-PRV UL13-eGFP superinfection. However, UL13 does not act directly in the escape from genome silencing, as adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated UL13 expression in neuronal cell bodies was not sufficient to provoke escape from genome silencing. Based on this, we suggest that UL13 may contribute to initiation of productive infection through phosphorylation of other tegument proteins. Alphaherpesviruses have mastered various strategies to persist in an immunocompetent host, including the induction of latency and reactivation in peripheral nervous system (PNS) ganglia. We recently discovered that the molecular mechanism underlying escape from latency by the alphaherpesvirus pseudorabies virus (PRV) relies on a structural viral tegument protein. This study aimed at unravelling the role of tegument protein UL13 in PRV escape from latency. First, we confirmed the use of CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene replacement as a versatile tool to modify the PRV genome. Next, we used our new set of viral mutants and AAV vectors to conclude the indirect role of UL13 in PRV escape from latency in primary neurons, along with its spatial localization during retrograde capsid transport in axons. Based on these findings, we speculate that UL13 phosphorylates one or more tegument proteins, thereby priming these putative proteins to induce escape from genome silencing.