Lyssavirus P Protein Isoforms Diverge Significantly in Subcellular Interactions Underlying Mechanisms of Interferon Antagonism

Aaron M. Brice, Ashley M. Rozario, Stephen M. Rawlinson, Cassandra T. David, Linda Wiltzer-Bach, David A. Jans, Naoto Ito, Toby D.M. Bell, Gregory W. Moseley

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Viral hijacking of microtubule (MT)-dependent transport is well understood, but several viruses also express discrete MT-associated proteins (vMAPs), potentially to modulate MT-dependent processes in the host cell. Specific roles for vMAP-MT interactions include subversion of antiviral responses by P3, an isoform of the P protein of rabies virus (RABV; genus Lyssavirus), which mediates MT-dependent antagonism of interferon (IFN)-dependent signal transducers and activators of transcription 1 (STAT1) signaling. P3 also undergoes nucleocytoplasmic trafficking and inhibits STAT1-DNA binding, indicative of intranuclear roles in a multipronged antagonistic strategy. MT association/STAT1 antagonist functions of P3 correlate with pathogenesis, indicating potential as therapeutic targets. However, key questions remain, including whether other P protein isoforms interact with MTs, the relationship of these interactions with pathogenesis, and the extent of conservation of P3-MT interactions between diverse pathogenic lyssaviruses. Using super-resolution microscopy, live-cell imaging, and immune signaling analyses, we find that multiple P protein isoforms associate with MTs and that association correlates with pathogenesis. Furthermore, P3 proteins from different lyssaviruses exhibit variation in intracellular localization phenotypes that are associated with STAT1 antagonist function, whereby P3-MT association is conserved among lyssaviruses of phylogroup I but not phylogroup II, while nucleocytoplasmic localization varies between P3 proteins of the same phylogroup within both phylogroup I and II. Nevertheless, the divergent P3 proteins retain significant IFN antagonist function, indicative of adaptation to favor different inhibitory mechanisms, with MT interaction important to phylogroup I viruses. IMPORTANCE Lyssaviruses, including rabies virus, cause rabies, a progressive encephalomyelitis that is almost invariably fatal. There are no effective antivirals for symptomatic infection, and effective application of current vaccines is limited in areas of endemicity, such that rabies causes ~59,000 deaths per year. Viral subversion of host cell functions, including antiviral immunity, is critical to disease, and isoforms of the lyssavirus P protein are central to the virus-host interface underpinning immune evasion. Here, we show that specific cellular interactions of P protein isoforms involved in immune evasion vary significantly between different lyssaviruses, indicative of distinct strategies to evade immune responses. These findings highlight the diversity of the virus-host interface, an important consideration in the development of pan-lyssavirus therapeutic approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0139622
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Virology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2022


  • immune evasion
  • lyssavirus
  • microtubules
  • nuclear localisation
  • rabies virus
  • super-resolution microscopy

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