The alphaherpesvirus glycoproteins gE and gI form a hetero-oligomeric complex involved in cell-to-cell transmission. The gI-deficient recombinant feline herpesvirus (FHV), FHVdeltagI-LZ, produces plaques that are only 15% the size of those of wild-type FHV. Here, we have complemented FHV(delta)gI-LZ allotopically by expressing intact gI and C-terminally truncated gI derivatives from the thymidine kinase locus. The effect on gE-gI-mediated cell-to-cell spread was assessed by plaque assay employing computer-assisted image analysis (software available at http://www.androclus.vet.uu.nl/spotter/spotter.htm+ ++). Allotopic complementation with intact gI fully restored plaque size. Deletion of the C-terminal 11 residues of gI did not affect cell-to-cell spread, whereas deletion of the complete cytoplasmic tail reduced plaque size by only 35%. Mutants expressing gI166, roughly corresponding to the N-terminal half of the ectodomain, displayed a small-plaque phenotype. Nevertheless, their plaques were reproducibly larger than those of matched gI-deficient controls, indicating that the gE-gI166 hetero-oligomer, though crippled, is still able to mediate cell-to-cell spread. Our data demonstrate that plaque analysis provides a reliable and convenient tool to measure and quantitate gE-gI function in vitro.


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