The African swine fever virus (ASFV) strain Malawi LIL20/1 open reading frame (ORF) j13L was expressed in vaccinia virus (VV) from a strong synthetic late promoter as either a complete ORF (vSJ1) or lacking codons 1-31 (vSJ2). Each recombinant VV produced a small plaque which rapidly reverted to a normal size upon passage. The yield of infectious virus from a single cycle infection with vSJ1 or vSJ2 was reduced 50- to 100-fold compared to wild-type (wt) and a revertant virus (vSJ5) in which the j13L ORF was removed and the VV thymidine kinase gene restored. PCR analysis of nine spontaneous large plaque revertant viruses, recovered after passage of vSJ1 in BSC-40 cells, showed that six had lost the j13L ORF and the co-inserted beta-galactosidase gene. Three viruses retained the j13L and beta-galactosidase genes, but in each case the j13L protein was not expressed due to a different single base deletion near the 5' end of the j13L coding region which introduced a stop codon a short distance downstream. The formation of intracellular mature virus (IMV) and extracellular enveloped virus was reduced 50- to 75-fold in cells infected with vSJ1 compared to wt VV and revertant vSJ5. Electron microscopy showed aberrant IMV precursor structures in vSJ1-infected cells, and immunoelectron microscopy demonstrated that these structures contained j13L protein. These results indicate that expression of the j13L protein is toxic for VV replication due to interference with VV morphogenesis prior to IMV formation.


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