African horse sickness is a major infectious disease of equids and is caused by African horse sickness virus (AHSV), a dsRNA virus with 10 genome segments encoding for 7 structural and 4/5 non-structural proteins. Here, we focused on the characterisation of the AHSV NS4, the latest protein found to be expressed by this virus. In silico analysis of available sequences confirmed the existence of two phylogenetically distinct AHSV clades: NS4-I and NS4-II. NS4-II is further divided into three subtypes (a, b and g). Confocal microscopy demonstrated that all AHSV NS4 types localised in the cytoplasm of infected cells, unlike the BTV NS4 which, has a strong nucleolar localisation. The replication kinetics of reverse genetics derived AHSV NS4 deletion mutants (AHSVDNS4) were similar to their wild type counterparts in insect (Kc) or interferon incompetent (BSR) cells. However, replication of AHSVDNS4 mutants in primary horse endothelial cells was restricted, in comparison to wild-type viruses. Importantly, primary cells restriction to AHSV replication was dependent on the JAK/STAT pathway. Furthermore, AHSVDNS4 mutants were not able to efficiently suppress the secretion of anti-viral cytokines from primary cells, while the wild-type viruses suppressed this response to varying degrees. Importantly, AHSVDNS4 mutants were less virulent than their wild type counterparts in a murine model of AHSV infection. These results indicate that AHSV NS4 has a role in interferon IFN antagonism and a determinant of viral virulence. We are currently carrying out mass spectrometry analyses to identify the cellular proteins interacting with the AHSV NS4.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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