Guinea pig cytomegalovirus (GPCMV) provides a valuable model for congenital cytomegalovirus transmission. Salivary gland (SG)-passaged stocks of GPCMV are pathogenic, while tissue culture (TC) passage in fibroblasts results in attenuation. Nonpathogenic TC-derived virus N13R10 (cloned as a bacterial artificial chromosome [BAC]) has a 4-bp deletion that disrupts GP129, which encodes a subunit of the GPCMV pentameric complex (PC) believed to govern viral entry into select cell types, and GP130, an overlapping open reading frame (ORF) of unknown function. To determine if this deletion contributes to attenuation of N13R10, markerless gene transfer in Escherichia coli was used to construct virus r129, a variant of N13R10 in which the 4-bp deletion is repaired. Virions from r129 were found to contain GP129 as well as two other PC subunit proteins, GP131 and GP133, whereas these three PC subunits were absent from N13R10 virions. Replication of r129 in fibroblasts appeared unaltered compared to that of N13R10. However, following experimental challenge of immunocompromised guinea pigs, r129 induced significant weight loss, longer duration of viremia, and dramatically higher (up to 1.5×106-fold) viral loads in blood and end organs compared to N13R10. In pregnant guinea pigs, challenge with doses of r129 virus of≥5×106 PFU resulted in levels of maternal viremia, congenital transmission, pup viral loads, intrauterine growth restriction, and pup mortality comparable to that induced by pathogenic SG virus, although higher doses of r129 were required. These results suggest that the GP129-GP130 mutation is a significant contributor to attenuation of N13R10, likely by abrogating expression of a functional PC.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Grant support from NIH awards HD044864, HD079918, and HD082273 (to M.R.S.), HD068229 (supporting E.C.S.), DE022732 (supporting C.J.B.), and AI107810 (to D.P.D.) is acknowledged.