Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) (3Dpol) catalyzes viral RNA synthesis. Its characteristic low fidelity and absence of proofreading activity allow FMDV to rapidly mutate and adapt to dynamic environments. In this study, we used the structure of FMDV 3Dpol in combination with previously reported results from similar picornaviral polymerases to design point mutations that would alter replication fidelity. In particular, we targeted Trp237 within conserved polymerase motif A because of the low reversion potential inherent in the single UGG codon. Using biochemical and genetic tools, we show that the replacement of tryptophan 237 with phenylalanine imparts higher fidelity, but replacements with isoleucine and leucine resulted in lower-fidelity phenotypes. Viruses containing these W237 substitutions show in vitro growth kinetics and plaque morphologies similar to those of the wild-type (WT) A24 Cruzeiro strain in BHK cells, and both high- and low-fidelity variants retained fitness during coinfection with the wildtype virus. The higher-fidelity W237F (W237FHF) mutant virus was more resistant to the mutagenic nucleoside analogs ribavirin and 5-fluorouracil than the WT virus, whereas the lower-fidelity W237I (W237ILF) and W237LLF mutant viruses exhibited lower ribavirin resistance. Interestingly, the variant viruses showed heterogeneous and slightly delayed growth kinetics in primary porcine kidney cells, and they were significantly attenuated in mouse infection experiments. These data demonstrate, for a single virus, that either increased or decreased RdRp fidelity attenuates virus growth in animals, which is a desirable feature for the development of safer and genetically more stable vaccine candidates.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Lauro Velazquez for assisting in the statistical analysis of mutation frequencies. Funding for the research detailed in the manuscript was provided through congressionally allocated dollars for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, specifically CRIS project no. 8064-32000-061-00D, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (E.R.). Work in the Peersen Laboratory was supported by NIH award R21-AI124123.
- 3D polymerase
- Foot-and-mouth disease virus
- RNA-dependent RNA polymerase fidelity