Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV; genus ) can exist as two biotypes, cytopathogenic (CP) and non-cytopathogenic (NCP). The CP form differs from NCP by the continual expression of free non-structural protein 3 (NS3). CP BVDV infection of cultured cells induces apoptosis, whereas NCP BVDV infection has been reported to block the induction of beta interferon (IFN-). To investigate the viral mechanisms underlying these effects, NS3 or NS2–3 proteins of NCP and CP BVDV biotypes, together with the cognate NS3 co-factor NS4A, were expressed in cells, and their effect on apoptosis and induction of IFN- was investigated. Expression of NS3/4A resulted in increased activity of caspase-9 and caspase-3, indicating induction of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. Mutational analysis revealed that a protease-inactive NS3/4A was unable to induce apoptosis, suggesting that NS3 protease activity is required for initiation of apoptosis during CP BVDV infection. The ability of NS2–3 to modulate activation of the IFN- promoter was also investigated. These studies confirmed that, unlike the related hepatitis C virus and GB virus-B, BVDV proteases are unable to inhibit TLR3- and RIG-I-dependent activation of the IFN- promoter. These data suggest that BVDV NS3/4A is responsible for regulating the levels of cellular apoptosis and provide new insights regarding the viral elements associated with CP biotype pathogenesis.


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