Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a re-emerging Alphavirus transmitted by Aedes mosquitos and causing fever, rash and chronic arthralgia. There are no vaccines or antiviral agents available for CHIKV therefore it is important to understand the molecular details of virus replication. To address this, we previously conducted a mutagenic analysis of the central alphavirus unique domain (AUD) of the CHIKV non-structural protein 3 (nsP3), testing replication of a subgenomic replicon in a variety of mammalian and mosquito (Aedes albopictus) cell lines. One mutant (M219A) exhibited a different phenotype in two Aedes albopictus cell lines (U4.4 and C6/36): replicating as wildtype in C6/36 but was blocked in U4.4. As U4.4 cells have an intact RNAi response whereas C6/36 have a frameshift mutation in the Dicer-2 (Dcr2) gene and express an inactive Dcr2 protein, we proposed that the replication of M219A was suppressed by the RNAi antiviral response in U4.4 cells, while wild type nsP3 was able to counteract this response. To further investigate this hypothesis we have extended the mutagenic analysis to screen other residues in proximity with M219 within the AUD. All of these mutants retain wildtype levels of replication in mammalian and C6/36 cells, except for W220A which replicates poorly. Evaluation of the replication of these mutants in U4.4 is ongoing. We are also pursuing a CRISPR/Cas9 approach to ablate expression of Dcr2 in U4.4 cells, and generating stable C6/36 cells expressing Dcr2 to confirm our hypothesis. Our studies will shed light on how CHIKV nsP3 can antagonise mosquito innate immunity.

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