Cyclical adaptation of measles virus quasispecies to epithelial and lymphocytic cells: To V, or not to V

Ryan C. Donohue, Christian K. Pfaller, Roberto Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Measles virus (MeV) is dual-tropic: it replicates first in lymphatic tissues and then in epithelial cells. This switch in tropism raises the question of whether, and how, intra-host evolution occurs. Towards addressing this question, we adapted MeV either to lymphocytic (Granta-519) or epithelial (H358) cells. We also passaged it consecutively in both human cell lines. Since passaged MeV had different replication kinetics, we sought to investigate the underlying genetic mechanisms of growth differences by performing deep-sequencing analyses. Lymphocytic adaptation reproducibly resulted in accumulation of variants mapping within an 11-nucleotide sequence located in the middle of the phosphoprotein (P) gene. This sequence mediates polymerase slippage and addition of a pseudo-templated guanosine to the P mRNA. This form of co-transcriptional RNA editing results in expression of an interferon antagonist, named V, in place of a polymerase co-factor, named P. We show that lymphocytic-adapted MeV indeed produce minimal amounts of edited transcripts and V protein. In contrast, parental and epithelial-adapted MeV produce similar levels of edited and non-edited transcripts, and of V and P proteins. Raji, another lymphocytic cell line, also positively selects V-deficient MeV genomes. On the other hand, in epithelial cells V-competent MeV genomes rapidly out-compete the V-deficient variants. To characterize the mechanisms of genome re-equilibration we rescued four recombinant MeV carrying individual editing site-proximal mutations. Three mutations interfered with RNA editing, resulting in almost exclusive P protein expression. The fourth preserved RNA editing and a standard P-to-V protein expression ratio. However, it altered a histidine involved in Zn 2+ binding, inactivating V function. Thus, the lymphocytic environment favors replication of V-deficient MeV, while the epithelial environment has the opposite effect, resulting in rapid and thorough cyclical quasispecies re-equilibration. Analogous processes may occur in natural infections with other dual-tropic RNA viruses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007605
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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