Title:
Filovirus vectors and noninfectious filovirus-based particles
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Cloned filovirus genomic cDNA and methods of using the cDNA are provided. Further provided are noninfectious lipid encapsulated filovirus-based particles.



Inventors:
Kawaoka, Yoshihiro (Madison, WI, US)
Jasenosky, Luke D. (Madison, WI, US)
Neumann, Gabriele (Madison, WI, US)
Application Number:
11/654863
Publication Date:
10/21/2010
Filing Date:
01/18/2007
Assignee:
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
435/320.1, 435/325, 435/348, 435/255.1
International Classes:
C12N7/00; C07K14/08; C12N1/16; C12N5/07; C12N5/071; C12N15/63; C12N15/86
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
CHEN, STACY BROWN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner/WARF (Minneapolis, MN, US)
Claims:
1. A method to prepare filovirus, comprising: contacting a cell with a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a filovirus genomic cDNA or a portion thereof linked to a transcription termination sequence, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding a filovirus RNA transcriptase-polymerase, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus NP, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus VP30, and a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus VP35, so as to yield infectious filovirus, wherein the portion of the cDNA, when transcribed, yields a RNA which is capable of being packaged into filovirus virions or which is capable of being replicated in the presence of filovirus proteins.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the promoter in the vector comprising filovirus genomic cDNA is a RNA polymerase I promoter, RNA polymerase II promoter, RNA polymerase III promoter, T7 RNA polymerase promoter, or T3 RNA polymerase promoter.

3. The method of claim 1 further comprising a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA fragment of interest.

4. The method of claim 1 wherein the vector comprising the filovirus genomic cDNA further comprises a DNA fragment of interest within the genomic sequence.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein the promoter of the vector comprising the filovirus genomic cDNA is a T7 RNA polymerase promoter.

6. The method of claim 5 further comprising a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding T7 RNA polymerase.

7. The method of claim 1 further comprising isolating the virus.

8. The method of claim 3 or 4 wherein the DNA fragment of interest encodes a detectable marker, a therapeutic protein or an immunogenic polypeptide or peptide of a pathogen or tumor antigen.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein the sequence of the genomic cDNA has one or more nucleotide deletions, insertions or substitutions relative to the sequence of a corresponding wild-type filovirus.

10. A composition comprising a plurality of filovirus vectors, comprising: a) a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a filovirus genomic cDNA or a portion thereof linked to a transcription termination sequence, wherein the portion of the cDNA, when transcribed, yields a RNA which is capable of being packaged into filovirus virions or which is capable of being replicated in the presence of filovirus proteins; and b) a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding a filovirus RNA transcriptase-polymerase, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus NP, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus VP30, and a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding filovirus VP35.

11. The composition of claim 10 further comprising a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA fragment of interest.

12. The composition of claim 10 wherein the vector of a) further comprises a DNA fragment of interest in the same orientation as the genomic cDNA.

13. The composition of claim 11 or 12 wherein the DNA fragment of interest encodes an immunogenic polypeptide or peptide of a pathogen, a tumor antigen, or a therapeutic protein.

14. The composition of claim 10 wherein each vector of b) is on a separate plasmid.

15. The composition of claim 10 further comprising a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a DNA segment encoding T7 RNA polymerase, wherein the promoter of the vector of a) is a T7 RNA polymerase promoter.

16. The composition of claim 10 wherein each of the vectors of b) further comprise a transcription termination sequence.

17. The composition of claim 10 wherein the cDNA is in the sense orientation.

18. The composition of claim 10 wherein the cDNA is in the antisense orientation.

19. A cell contacted with the composition of claim 10.

20. The cell of claim 19 which is a eukaryotic cell.

21. The cell of claim 19 which is an insect, yeast, or mammalian cell.

22. A vector encoding a mutant filovirus matrix protein having one or more amino acid deletions, insertions or substitutions relative to wild-type filovirus matrix protein, which mutant binds to lipid.

23. The vector of claim 22 which encodes a mutant filovirus matrix protein having residues corresponding to residues 1-276, 1-226, 50-276, 50-326 or 100-326 of the Ebola virus matrix protein.

24. The vector of claim 22 wherein the mutant filovirus matrix protein binds to the cell membrane of eukaryotic cells.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is a divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/353,856, filed Jan. 29, 2003, which claims the benefit of the filing date of U.S. application Ser. No. 60/353,972, filed on Jan. 31, 2002, under 35 U.S.C. §119(e). Which applications are incorporated by reference herein.

STATEMENT OF GOVERNMENT RIGHTS

This invention was made with government support awarded by the National Institutes of Health, Grant Nos. AI42774 and AI44386. The Government has certain rights in this invention.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Ebola virus, a member of the family Filoviridae and the order Mononegavirales, is an enveloped, nonsegmented negative-strand RNA virus and is one of the most lethal human and nonhuman primate pathogens recognized to date (Feldmann et al., 1998; Vanderzanden et al., 1998). Four subtypes of Ebola virus have been identified, including Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Reston (Sanchez et al., 1993). Human infection with subtype Zaire causes a fulminating, febrile, hemorrhagic disease that results in extensive mortality (Feldmann et al., 1993). Thus, Ebola virus infection presents a much-needed model to study virus-induced mechanisms leading to coagulation disorders and vascular instability. However, identification of major determinants of Ebola virus pathogenicity has been hampered by the lack of effective strategies for experimental mutagenesis.

Ebola virus particles have a filamentous appearance, but its shape may be branched, circular, U- or 6-shaped, or long and straight (Feldmann et al., 1996). Virions show a uniform diameter of approximately 80 nm, but vary greatly in length. Ebola virus particles consist of seven structural proteins. The glycoprotein (GP) of Ebola virus forms spikes of approximately 7 nm, which are spaced at 5- to 10-nm intervals on the virion surface (Feldmann et al., 1996 and Peters et al., 1995). Cleavage of the GP is thought to be an important determinant of viral pathogenicity (Volchkov et al., 1998; Sanchez et al., 1996; Takada et al., 1997; Volchkov et al., 1998a; Volchkov et al., 1998b; Wool-Lewis et al., 1998; Yang et al., 2000). The Ebola virus GP contains a highly conserved consensus motif for the subtilisin-like endoprotease furin, and previous studies demonstrated GP cleavage by this protease (Nina et al., 1991). Nonetheless, studies of murine leukemia virus (Wood-Lewis et al., 1999) or vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) (Ito et al., 2001) pseudotyped with mutant Ebola virus GPs lacking the furin recognition motif at the cleavage site, showed that GP cleavage by furin was not essential for infectivity of the pseudotyped viruses. In many viruses, GP cleavage by furin and related endoproteases is essential for their infectivity. Thus, the significance of GP cleavage for the Ebola virus life cycle remains in question.

GP is the only transmembrane protein of Ebola virus, and is responsible for receptor binding and membrane fusion (Takada et al., 1997). Cells infected with recombinant vaccinia virus expressing the GP produced virosomes that varied in shape and diameter but uniformly possessed spike structures on their surface (Volchkov et al., 1998c), although the effects of over 80 vaccinia viral proteins (Moss, 1995) on the formation of particles are unknown. Similar virosomes are also released from Ebola virus-infected cells (Volchkov et al., 1998c). These findings suggest that the GP contributes not only to an early stage of the viral infection cycle but also to viral budding.

In addition, although recent studies have begun to address the immune response to viral infection (Baize et al., 1999; Basler et al., 2000; Vanderzanden et al., 1998; and Wilson et al., 2000), as well as the functions of the viral proteins involved in the replicative process (VP30, VP35, NP, L) (Basler et al., 2000 and Muhlberger et al., 1999) and GP, little is known about the functions of the viral proteins associated with the membrane, including viral protein 40 (VP40), which appears equivalent to matrix protein of other viruses.

The matrix proteins of many nonsegmented, negative-sense RNA viruses play a critical role in viral particle formation (virus assembly) and budding (Garoff et al., 1998). Expression of the matrix protein of VSV in insect and mammalian cells results in evagination of matrix protein-containing vesicles from the plasma membrane surface (Justice et al., 1995; and Li et al., 1993). Matrix proteins interact with membranes in a hydrophobic and/or electrostatic manner and electron micrographs of nonsegmented, negative-sense RNA viruses have demonstrated that the matrix protein forms a layer associated with the inner leaflet of the lipid bilayer (Garoff et al., 1998).

VP40 is the most abundant protein in virions (it represents 38% of the protein in the viral particle) and is located beneath the viral membrane, where is presumably maintains the structural integrity of the particle (Feldmann et al., 1996). VP40 is encoded by the third gene in the linear 3′-5′ RNA genome of Ebola virus and is 326 amino acids in length, which includes a number of hydrophobic regions (Elliott et al., 1985 and Sanchez et al., 1996). VP40 contains a PPXY motif (X denotes any amino acid) at amino acids 10-13 (Harty et al., 1996) that is also present at amino acids 16-19 in Marburg virus, strain Popp (Sanchez et al., 1993). This motif has been shown to play an important role in the budding of rabies virus and VSV: when either of the prolines or the tyrosine of this motif is altered in the matrix proteins of these viruses, viral budding is markedly reduced by comparison to findings with wild-type virus (Harty et al., 1996). Mutation of the PPXY motif in the matrix protein of VSV appears to reduce virus yield by pre-empting budding of assembled virions at the plasma membrane (Jayakar et al., 2000). This motif interacts with the WW domain found in many cellular regulatory and signal transduction proteins (Bork et al., 1994 and Chen et al., 1995) and interactions between one or more cellular proteins and the matrix proteins of these viruses are thought to be crucial for efficient virus release from cells (Harty et al., 1999).

The matrix proteins of many enveloped viruses are thought to interact with the cytoplasmic tails of viral glycoproteins. Such interaction is believed to be important for virus assembly. In influenza viruses, the removal of the cytoplasmic tail of the hemagglutinin or neuraminidase glycoprotein alters virion morphology (Jin et al., 1997; Mitnaul et al., 1996). Although not essential for normal particle formation in rabies virus and VSV, glycoproteins enhance the efficiency of particle formation (Mebatsion et al., 1996; Mebatsion et al., 1999; Schnell et al., 1998).

Thus, what is needed is a method to readily manipulate the filovirus genome.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides methods to prepare filovirus, e.g., Marburg virus and Ebola virus, from cloned DNA and compositions useful therefor. As described herein, a reverse genetics system was employed to generate filovirus, e.g., Ebola virus, from cloned cDNA. The genomic sequence was prepared by reverse transcription and amplification of viral RNA. The expression of the resulting genomic cDNA, e.g., in host cells, in sense and antisense orientation yields cRNA or vRNA, which in the presence of certain viral proteins, e.g., L, NP, VP30 and VP35, yielded infectious virus. This system was also used to generate a mutant virus with an altered furin cleavage motif in GP. When expressed in cells, the GP of the wild-type, but not of the mutant, virus was cleaved into GP1 and GP2. Although posttranslational furin-mediated cleavage of GP was thought to be an essential step in Ebola virus infection, generation of a viable mutant Ebola virus lacking a furin recognition motif in the GP cleavage site demonstrated that GP cleavage is not essential for replication of Ebola virus in cell culture.

Thus, the invention provides a composition comprising a plurality of filovirus vectors. The composition comprises a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule comprising a filovirus genomic cDNA linked to a transcription termination sequence, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule, for instance, a DNA segment, encoding a filovirus RNA transcriptase-polymerase, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding a filovirus NP, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding filovirus VP30, and a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding filovirus VP35. Preferred promoters for the vector comprising the filovirus cDNA include, but are not limited to, a RNA polymerase I promoter, RNA polymerase II promoter, RNA polymerase III promoter, T7 RNA polymerase promoter, or T3 RNA polymerase promoter, and preferred transcription termination sequences include, but are not limited to, a RNA polymerase I transcription termination sequence, RNA polymerase II transcription termination sequence, RNA polymerase III transcription termination sequence, or a ribozyme. The sequence of the filovirus genomic cDNA may be that of wild-type or may have one or more nucleotide deletions, insertions or substitutions relative to the genomic sequence of a corresponding wild-type filovirus. Virus, either wild-type or mutant, such as a randomly mutagenized sequence or one subjected to directed evolution, prepared from such a cDNA, is useful to screen for antiviral compounds or other desirable properties such as immunogenicity, to prepare a vaccine which results in a protective immune response when administered to animals, e.g., mammals and preferably primates, or to deliver a nucleic acid sequence of interest to cells, e.g., a marker gene, a gene encoding an immunogenic protein from a pathogen including viruses other than a filovirus, bacteria, fungi or yeast, or a therapeutic protein, e.g., ADA, CFTR, factor VIII or factor IX. Further, as the length of a filovirus virion is variable, the nucleic acid sequence of interest may be introduced into cloned filovirus cDNA, as an individual open reading frame, e.g., one encoding a functional protein, or so as to encode a fusion protein with a filovirus protein, or as a replacement (substitution) for one or more coding regions in the filovirus genome. Depending on whether or not virus replication is desirable, a filovirus cDNA which lacks one or more filovirus coding regions but comprises a DNA of interest may be introduced into a cell along with the full-length (genomic) cDNA, optionally with vectors encoding filovirus proteins. In particular, each of the coding regions for genes not associated with filovirus replication, e.g., GP, VP40 and VP24, may be replaced with a DNA of interest. The resulting virus-like particles may be employed to screen for compounds with desirable pharmacological profiles, e.g., antiviral compounds. Alternatively, a filovirus cDNA which lacks one or more viral coding regions, but includes filovirus sequences for encapsidation and/or replication and includes a DNA of interest, may be introduced into a cell along with vectors encoding filovirus proteins, to form virus-like particles.

The invention thus also provides a method to prepare filovirus. The method comprises contacting a cell with a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a filovirus genomic cDNA or a portion thereof, e.g., a portion which, when expressed as vRNA is packaged into virions and can be replicated in the presence of filovirus proteins, linked to a transcription termination sequence, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule, e.g., a DNA segment, encoding a filovirus RNA transcriptase-polymerase, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding filovirus NP, a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding filovirus VP30, and a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid molecule encoding filovirus VP35, so as to yield infectious filovirus. A portion of a filovirus cDNA includes portions which, when transcribed, yield a RNA which is capable of being packaged into filovirus virions or which is capable of being replicated in the presence of filovirus proteins. In one embodiment, the genomic cDNA may have been recombinantly manipulated, for example, by introducing one or more nucleotide deletions, insertions or substitutions. The promoters may be recognized by RNA polymerases expressed in the cells to be transfected, transformed or transduced with the vectors of the invention, or may be recognized by a RNA polymerase that is introduced to the cell concurrently or sequentially with the filoviral vectors, e.g., by introduction of the polymerase itself or a vector encoding the polymerase. In one embodiment, the filovirus genomic cDNA may be manipulated to encode a fusion protein, encode a therapeutic protein or a protein useful in a vaccine, e.g., an immunogenic tumor-specific protein or an immunogenic peptide or protein of a pathogen, such as a bacteria, virus, yeast, or fungus. Also provided are cells contacted sequentially or concurrently with a composition, vector or virus of the invention, virus obtained by the methods of the invention, and cells infected with the virus.

As also described herein, VP40, when expressed apart from other viral proteins in mammalian cells, induced particle formation, which differed in length but with uniform diameters of approximately 65 nm. Efficient particle formation may rely on a conserved N-terminal PPXY motif, as mutation or loss of this motif resulted in markedly reduced particle formation. These findings demonstrate that VP40 alone possesses the information necessary to induce particle formation, and this process most likely requires cellular WW-domain-containing proteins that interact with the PPXY motif of VP40. Flotation gradient analysis indicated that VP40 binds to membranes in a hydrophobic manner, as NaCl at 1 M did not release the protein from the lipid bilayer. Triton X-114 phase-partitioning analysis suggested that VP40 possesses only minor features of an integral membrane protein. Truncation of the C-terminal 50 amino acids of VP40 resulted in decreased association with cellular membranes, and demonstrated that this deletion disrupts hydrophobic interactions of VP40 with the lipid bilayer, as well as abolishing particle formation. Truncation of the C-terminal 150 amino acids or N-terminal 100 amino acids of VP40 enhanced the protein's hydrophobic association with cellular membranes. These mutants may be useful as dominant negatives, to determine targets for antivirals.

When the Ebola virus GP was expressed in cells, pleomorphic particles were found budding from the plasma membrane. By contrast, when GP was co-expressed with VP40, GP was found on the filamentous particles induced by VP40. These results demonstrated the central role of VP40 in the formation of the filamentous structure of Ebola virions and suggests an interaction between VP40 and GP in morphogenesis.

Thus, the invention provides a method to prepare lipid encapsulated particles comprising recombinant filovirus matrix protein. The method comprises providing a culture of eukaryotic cells contacted with a vector comprising a promoter operably linked to a nucleic acid, e.g., DNA, encoding a filovirus matrix protein or a portion thereof which is capable of being incorporated into a filovirus particle. Supernatant from the culture which comprises lipid encapsulated particles comprising filovirus matrix protein is then collected. Preferred eukaryotic cells are mammalian cells, including primate cells such as monkey or human cells, although any eukaryotic cell, in which the expression of VP40 results in VP40-containing particles in supernatants, may be employed. The particles prepared by the method are useful as nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) or protein delivery vehicles, e.g., as replication incompetent virus-like particles useful as a vaccine or a tolerogen, e.g., to suppress or inhibit an immune response to an endogenous antigen, e.g., myelin basic protein, collagen, thyroglobulin, acetylcholine receptor, DNA, or islet cell antigens, or an exogenous antigen, e.g., protein antigens of Alternaria alternata (Alt a I), Artemisia vulgaris (Art v II), Aspergillus fumigatus (Asp f II), Dermatophagoides pteron. (Der p I, Der pIII, Der p IV, Der p VI and Der p and domestic animals such as Felis domesticus (Fel d I), cows, pigs, poultry, mice, hamsters, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, dogs and horses. Common fungal antigens include those of Basidiomycetes such as Ustilago, Ganoderma, Alternaria, Cladosporium, Aspergillus, Sporobolomyces, Penicillium, Epicoccum, Fusarium, Phoma, Borrytis, Helminthosporium, Stemphylium and Cephalosporium; Phycomycetes such as Mucor and Rhizopus; and Ascomycetes such Eurotium and Chaetomium.

Accordingly, the eukaryotic cell may also express a nucleic acid, e.g., DNA, fragment of interest, including, but not limited to, one which encodes a therapeutic protein or peptide, an immunogenic peptide or protein of a pathogen, a tumor antigen or an immunogenic peptide thereof, a transmembrane protein such as one which specifically binds to a receptor on a particular cell type or tissue, a viral glycoprotein which specifically binds to a receptor on a particular cell type or tissue, or a fusion thereof with a filovirus GP. In one embodiment, cells express filovirus matrix protein and a fusion (chimera) of a filovirus glycoprotein, e.g., the transmembrane domain and intracellular domain of the filovirus glycoprotein and the extracellular portion of a non-filovirus protein, e.g., the extracellular domain of a cellular or viral transmembrane protein, such as influenza virus HA, or a soluble peptide or protein (one which does not comprise a transmembrane domain) which binds to a particular receptor. The resulting lipid encapsulated particles specifically bind to cells having a receptor for the extracellular non-filovirus protein or the soluble peptide or protein. In this manner, the lipid encapsulated particles may be targeted to a specific cell type or tissue in an animal and can deliver the encapsulated content(s) of the particle to the specific cell type or tissue. Also provided are isolated and/or purified lipid encapsulated particles obtained by the method. Such particles may be employed to screen for antiviral compounds, e.g., antivirals for other nonsegmented viruses.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1. Generation of Ebola virus entirely from cloned cDNA. (A) Schematic diagram of cDNA plasmids for Ebola virus cRNA or (B) vRNA synthesis and their efficiencies for virus generation. T7 and Rib indicate T7 RNA polymerase promoter and ribozyme sequences, respectively. G designates a guanine nucleotide inserted between the promoter and Ebola virus cDNA. Synthesis of positive-sense Ebola virus cRNA is represented by “Ebola,” while the inverse lettering denotes synthesis of negative-sense vRNA.

FIG. 2. Replication of Ebola virus in cell culture. A) Six days after infection (light microscope). B) Three days after infection (antibody-based staining for virus). Mutant refers to an Ebola virus with an altered furin recognition sequence in GP.

FIG. 3. Replication kinetics of wild-type Ebola virus and its GP cleavage mutant.

FIG. 4. Comparison of GP cleavage between wild-type and mutant Ebola virus. Labeled proteins were separated on 8% (A) and 15% (B) sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gels under reducing conditions. M, molecular mass marker; lane 1, mock-infected Vero E6 cells; lane 2, wild-type Ebola virus generated from plasmids; lane 3, GP cleavage mutant virus.

FIG. 5. (A) Schematic representation of wild-type VP40 and VP40 mutants. Substituted residues are indicated in bold-face type. (B) Kyte-Doolittle hydrophobicity plot of Ebola virus VP40 over a window of 17 amino acids (Justice et al., 1995).

FIG. 6. Expression of VP40, VP40/M14A and VP40AAXY in 293T cells. The sample for the negative control was prepared from cells transfected with the empty vector (pCAGGS/MCS). Lysates were harvested 24 hours post-transfection, and proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIG. 7. Particle formation by VP40 and its mutants. Lanes represent fractions from a sucrose gradient (numbered from the top) loaded with VP40 (A) or a mutant VP40(B-D) from cells transfected with VP40-encoding constructs. Proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIG. 8. Protease protection analysis of VP40-induced particles. Lane 1: no treatment; lane 2: soybean trypsin inhibitor; lane 3: Triton X-100; lane 4: trypsin; lane 5: Triton X-100 and trypsin; and lane 6: trypsin inhibitor and trypsin. Proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIG. 9. Membrane-association analysis of VP40 and its deletion mutants. Shown are gradients from cells expressing VP40 (A-B), VP40/1-276 (C-D), VP40/1-226 (E-F), VP40/1-176 (G-H), VP40/50-326 (1-J), and VP40/100-326 (K-L). Fractions are numbered from the top to the bottom of the gradient. Proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIG. 10. Membrane-association analysis of VP40 mutants VP40AAXY (A) and VP40M14A (B). Lanes represent fractions collected from the top of a gradient formed with a homogenate in 80% sucrose overlaid with 65% and 10% sucrose layers. Lanes represent fractions collected from the top of a gradient formed with a homogenate in 80% sucrose overlaid with 65% and 10% sucrose layers. Proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIGS. 11A-G. Triton X-114 phase partitioning analysis of VP40 and its deletion mutants. The homogenate was partitioned into aqueous (A) and detergent (D) phases. Proteins were separated by SDS-PAGE (12%) and detected by Western blotting.

FIG. 12. Budding of GP-associated particles from the plasma membrane. Twenty four hours post-transfection of 293T cells with a GP-expressing plasmid (A). 293T cells transfected with an empty expression vector lack such particle formation (B). Bar, 100 nm.

FIG. 13. Pleomorphic particles resulting from GP expression. The supernatants of cells expressing GP were centrifuged through 20% sucrose, and the pelleted material was then negatively stained with 2% PTA. Pleomorphic particles with surface spikes were observed (A and B). Pelleted material was also immunolabeled with a mixture of anti-GP monoclonal antibodies conjugated to 15-nm gold particles C) and D). Bar, 100 nm.

FIG. 14. Morphologic changes in 293T cells expressing VP40. At 24 h post-transfection of 293T cells with a VP40-expressing plasmid, filamentous particles budding from the plasma membrane (A), membrane ruffles and the adhering site of two bilayers (C, arrows), as well as aggregated ribosomes (E, arrows) were apparent. Intracellular electron-dense filamentous structures (F, arrowheads) were also observed. The filamentous particles and membrane ruffles were immunolabeled with an anti-VP40 antibody conjugated with 5-nm gold particles (B and D). M, mitochondrion; mt, microtubule. Bar, 100 nm (A, B, C, D, F) or 200 nm (E).

FIG. 15. Filamentous particles induced by VP40 expression. The supernatants of cells expressing VP40 were centrifuged through 20% sucrose, and the pelleted material was then negatively stained with 2% PTA. Particles with uniform diameters of approximately 65 nm and varied lengths were observed (A-C). Bar, 100 nm.

FIG. 16. Filamentous, spiked particles budding from the plasma membrane 24 hours after-transfection of 293T cells with plasmids coexpressing VP40 and GP (A and B). Bar, 100 nm.

FIG. 17. Ebola virus-like particles produced by coexpression of VP40 and GP. The supernatants of cells coexpressing these two proteins were centrifuged through 20% sucrose, and the pelleted material was then negatively stained with 2% PTA. Filamentous particles with surface spikes and varied lengths were observed (A-C). Pelleted material was also immunolabeled with a mixture of anti-GP monoclonal antibodies conjugated to 15-nm gold particles (D, arrowheads), or treated with 0.03% Triton X-100 at room temperature for 15 minutes, and then immunolabeled with a mixture of anti-GP antibodies conjugated to 15-nm gold particles (E, arrowheads) and an anti-VP40 antibody conjugated to 5-nm gold particles (E, arrows). Bar, 1 μm (A) or 100 nm (B-E).

FIGS. 18A-18KKK. Representative filovirus sequences (Accession numbers AB050936, NC002549, NC001608, AF086833 and AF272001).

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides isolated and/or purified vectors or plasmids, which encode filovirus proteins, and/or express filovirus genomic RNA. When introduced into a cell, these vectors yield infectious filovirus. Thus, the invention includes isolated and/or purified filovirus prepared by the methods disclosed herein. As also described, the invention provides isolated and/or purified noninfectious lipid encapsulated particles, i.e., the contacting of cells with noninfectious particles does not yield progeny virus. As used herein, the terms “isolated and/or purified” refer to in vitro preparation, isolation and/or purification of a vector, plasmid, virus or lipid encapsulated particle of the invention, so that it is not associated with in vivo substances, or is substantially purified from in vitro substances. As used herein, the term “recombinant nucleic acid” or “recombinant DNA sequence, fragment or segment” refers to a nucleic acid, e.g., to DNA, that has been derived or isolated from a source, that may be subsequently chemically altered in vitro, and includes, but is not limited to, a sequence that is naturally occurring, is not naturally occurring, or corresponds to naturally occurring sequences that are not positioned as they would be positioned in the native genome. An example of DNA “derived” from a source, would be a DNA sequence that is identified as a useful fragment, and which is then chemically synthesized in essentially pure form. An example of such DNA “isolated” from a source would be a useful DNA sequence that is excised or removed from said source by chemical means, e.g., by the use of restriction endonucleases, so that it can be further manipulated, e.g., amplified, for use in the invention, by the methodology of genetic engineering.

The vectors or plasmids of the invention comprise filovirus cDNA, for example, one or more open reading frames encoding filovirus proteins or portions of the genomic sequence which are capable of being replicated and packaged into virions in the presence of filovirus proteins. Therefore, gene(s) or portions thereof other than those of a filovirus may be employed in the vectors or plasmids, or methods, of the invention. A vector or plasmid of the invention may comprise a gene or open reading frame of interest, e.g., a foreign gene encoding an immunogenic peptide or protein useful as a vaccine or a therapeutic protein. If more than one vector is employed, the vectors may be physically linked or each vector may be present on an individual plasmid or other, e.g., linear, nucleic acid delivery vehicle. The vectors or plasmids may be introduced to any host cell, preferably a eukaryotic cell. Preferred host cells to prepare virus or lipid encapsulated particles of the invention include insect, avian or mammalian host cells such as canine, feline, equine, bovine, ovine, or primate cells including simian or human cells.

The filovirus genomic cDNA of the invention allows easy manipulation of filovirus, e.g., by the introduction of mutations into the viral genome. The methods of producing virus described herein, which do not require helper virus infection, are useful in viral mutagenesis studies, and in the production of vaccines (e.g., for AIDS, influenza, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, rhinovirus, filoviruses, malaria, herpes, and foot and mouth disease) and gene therapy vectors (e.g., for cancer, AIDS, adenosine deaminase, muscular dystrophy, ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency and central nervous system tumors). In particular, the use of lipid encapsulated particles of the invention which induce strong humoral and cellular immunity may be preferred as vaccine vectors as they are noninfectious and unlikely to give rise to infectious recombinant virus.

Thus, a virus for use in medical therapy (e.g., for a vaccine or gene therapy) is provided. For example, the invention provides a method to immunize an animal against a pathogen, e.g., a bacteria, virus, or parasite, or a malignant tumor. The method comprises administering to the animal an amount of at least one isolated virus of the invention which encodes and expresses, or comprises, an immunogenic peptide or protein of a pathogen or tumor, optionally in combination with an adjuvant, effective to immunize the animal. Alternatively, a lipid encapsulated particle of the invention may be used for immunization, either by delivering a DNA vaccine, or via expression of the immunogenic protein on the surface of the particle, for instance, the particle comprises a fusion protein comprising the extracellular domain of an immunogenic protein and the transmembrane and cytoplasmic portion of filovirus GP.

Also provided is a method to augment or increase the expression of an endogenous protein in an animal, e.g., a mammal such as a rodent, nonhuman primate or human, having an indication or disease characterized by a decreased amount or a lack of the endogenous protein. The method comprises administering to the animal an amount of an isolated virus of the invention effective to augment or increase the amount of the endogenous protein in the animal. Alternatively, a lipid encapsulated particle of the invention can be employed to deliver DNA encoding the protein or the protein itself. When the particle is used to deliver protein, optionally the particle comprises a chimeric transmembrane protein comprising an extracellular protein for targeting the particle to a specific tissue or cell type and the transmembrane and cytoplasmic portion of a filovirus GP.

The invention will be further described by the following non-limiting examples.

Example 1

Generation of Transfectant Ebola Virus

Materials and Methods

Efficiency of Virus Generation. To determine the efficiency of virus generation, Vero E6 cells were cotransfected with protein expression plasmids and the plasmid for Ebola virus vRNA or cRNA synthesis. Four days after transfection, the efficiency of virus generation was measured by determining the dose required to infect 50% of tissue culture cells (TCID50) per ml of supernatant. The data shown in FIG. 1A are representative results from three independent experiments. Experiments for the generation of Ebola virus as well as the characterization of recombinant Ebola virus were carried out in the BSL4 facility at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health, Winnipeg, Canada. Cells were transfected with plasmids for the expression of the Ebola virus NP, L, VP30, and VP35 proteins, and with the plasmid for Ebola virus cRNA or vRNA synthesis, controlled by T7 RNA polymerase promoter and ribozyme sequences. T7 RNA polymerase was provided by cotransfection of cells with pC-T7Pol.

Immunofluorescence Assay. Vero E6 cells were infected at a multiplicity of infection of 10−2 with either wild-type Ebola virus generated from plasmids or Ebola virus with an altered furin recognition sequence in its GP. Six days later, cells were observed under a light microscope. Three days after infection, cells were permeabilized and stained with antiserum. Three days after infection, cells were fixed with 2% paraformaldehyde in phosphate-buffered saline, followed by inactivation by gamma irradiation (2 Mrads). Cells were permeabilized with 0.1% Triton X-100 in phosphate-buffered saline for 15 minutes, washed three times with phosphate-buffered saline, and incubated for 1 hour at room temperature with an anti-Ebola virus Zaire rabbit antiserum (1:100 dilution in phosphate-buffered saline). After three washes with phosphate-buffered saline, Cy3-labeled anti-rabbit (1:500) conjugate (Rockland, Gilbertsville, Pa.) was added for 1 hour at room temperature. The cells were then washed with phosphate-buffered saline, mounted, and analyzed using an Axioplan 2 microscope (Zeiss).

Replication Kinetics. Vero E6 cells were infected with the wild-type or cleavage site mutant at a multiplicity of infection of 10−2. Supernatants were harvested at 2, 24, 48, and 72 hours postinfection. The TCID50 was determined by infecting Vero E6 cells with 10-fold dilutions of the supernatants obtained at the above-mentioned time points.

Labeling of Protein and Immunoprecipitation Analysis. Vero E6 cells were infected at a multiplicity of infection of 10′ and incubated until a cytopathic effect was observed. After the medium was removed, the cells were washed once with methionine- and cysteine-free DMEM and labeled for 24 hours in 2 ml of methionine- and cysteine-free Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium containing 2% dialyzed fetal calf serum and 10 μCi of protein labeling mix (NEN, Mississauga, Canada)/ml. The supernatants were then clarified by centrifugation (1,000×g for 5 minutes at 4° C.). An equal volume of 2×RIPA buffer (2% Triton X-100, 2% sodium deoxycholate, 0.2% sodium dodecyl sulfate, 0.3 M NaCl, 40 mM Tris-HCl [pH 7.7], 20 mM EDTA [pH 8.0], 0.4 U of aprotinin/ml, 2 mM phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride, 20 mM iodoacetamide) was added to the supernatants, and the solutions were subsequently inactivated by gamma irradiation (2 Mrad). Aliquots of the inactivated labeled material were mixed with an anti-Ebola virus Zaire horse serum and incubated at 4° C. overnight. The immune complexes were mixed with 30 μl of protein G sepharose for 3 hours at 4° C. with rotation. After 3 washes with RIPA buffer, the immunoprecipitated proteins were recovered by boiling them in 1×RIPA buffer.

Results

To generate a cDNA clone encoding the entire genome of Ebola virus (Zaire species, strain Mayinga), viral RNA was reverse transcribed with ThermoScript Reverse Transcriptase (Gibco/BRL, Rockville, Md.) and amplified by PCR with Pfu Turbo (Stratagene, La Jolla, Calif.). The resulting cDNA fragments were cloned in a Bluescript vector or its derivatives. A consensus sequence was determined and compared to a reference sequence (GenBank accession number AF086833). An A insertion was found between nucleotides 9,744 and 9,745, which was also detected in a partial Ebola virus genomic sequence (GenBank accession number L11365). In addition, an A insertion was found between nucleotides 18,495 and 18,496, and an A-to-T replacement was detected at position 18,226. The latter two changes have also been reported for a functional Ebola virus minigenome (Muhlberger et al., 1999). A full-length Ebola virus cDNA construct was assembled in a modified pTM1 vector (Moss et al., 1990), using conventional cloning techniques. Sequence analysis of the resulting full-length clone proved that no mutations had occurred during cloning procedures in E. coli.

Negative-sense RNA viruses have been generated from constructs encoding either the negative-sense viral RNA (vRNA) or the positive-sense complementary RNA (cRNA) (Marriott et al., 1999; Nagai et al., 1999; Neumann et al., 1999; Roberts et al., 1999; Schnell et al., 1994), albeit with higher efficiencies from the latter (Durbin et al., 1997; and Kato et al., 1996). cDNA constructs encoding the entire viral genome were generated, flanked by the T7 RNA polymerase promoter and a ribozyme, in both positive-sense and negative-sense orientations (FIG. 1A). To achieve efficient transcription, the wild-type T7 RNA polymerase promoter, which yields transcripts with an additional G at the 5′ end, was used to generate pTM-T7G-Ebo-Rib and pTM-Rib-Ebo-GT7 (FIG. 1A).

The generation of negative-sense RNA viruses requires viral proteins and genomic RNA for replication and transcription. For Ebola virus, the proteins necessary for replication and transcription include the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase L, and the nucleoprotein (NP), and two additional auxiliary proteins (VP30 and VP35) (Muhlberger et al., 1999). To generate constructs for the expression of Ebola viral proteins, the respective cDNA fragments were amplified by PCR, the products sequenced and then cloned into the eukaryotic expression vector pCAGGS/MCS (controlled by the chicken β-actin promoter) (Kobasa et al., 1997; Niwa et al., 1991), resulting in four plasmids (pCEZ-NP, pCEZ-VP30, pCEZ-VP35, and pCEZ-L).

To generate Ebola virus, 5×105 Vero E6 (African green monkey kidney) cells were transfected with 1 μg of the respective plasmid for Ebola virus vRNA or cRNA synthesis and with the following amounts of protein expression plasmids: 1 μg of pCEZ-NP, 0.3 μg of pCEZ-VP30, 0.5 μg of pCEZ-VP35, and 2 μg of pCEZ-L (FIG. 1B). To drive the transcription of viral RNA from the T7 RNA polymerase promoter, cells were cotransfected with 1 μg of an expression plasmid for T7 RNA polymerase (pC-T7pol). Four days later, supernatants were collected and used to infect fresh Vero E6 cells. When examined at 6 to 8 days postinfection, the cells showed cytopathic effects, indicating the generation of infectious Ebola virus entirely from cloned cDNA. Ebola virus was produced from constructs encoding either negative-sense vRNA or positive-sense cRNA (FIG. 1A). To determine the efficiency of virus generation, supernatants of transfected cells were collected 4 days after transfection, and the titer of virus in the supernatant was determined in Vero E6 cells. The efficiencies of virus generation from negative-sense vRNA or positive-sense cRNA were comparable, resulting in the generation of 102 50% tissue culture infective doses (TCID50) per ml of supernatant.

A subsequent passage of the virus in Vero E6 cells was performed to confirm the authenticity of the replicating agent. The first signs of a cytopathic effect were observed at 48 hours postinfection and became more prominent during the following days (FIG. 2A). Indirect immunofluorescence assays with a rabbit antiserum to Ebola virus GP/secreted GP (sGP) demonstrated the presence of Ebola virus GPs (FIG. 2B). None of the negative controls (untreated cells or cells transfected with the full-length cDNA construct or the protein expression plasmids alone) showed cytopathic effects or reacted with the anti-GP/sGP antiserum

The availability of a method for generating Ebola virus mutants greatly increases opportunities to dissect mechanisms of viral pathogenesis. For many viruses, postranslational cleavage of membrane glycoproteins by host proteolytic enzymes, including subtilisin-like proteases such as furin, is a prerequisite for fusion between the viral envelope and cellular membranes and therefore an important step in pathogenesis (Klenk et al., 1994). The Ebola virus GP is cleaved by furin or furin-like proteases at a highly conserved sequence motif (R—X—K/R—R; X, any amino acid) (Volchkov et al., 1998). Since the amino acid sequence of the GP of the Reston species, the least pathogenic of all Ebola virus subtypes in humans, deviates from the optimal furin recognition sequence, GP cleavage has been thought to be an important determinant of Ebola virus pathogenicity (Feldmann et al., 1999).

The effect of an altered furin recognition motif on Ebola virus replication was studied by modifying pTM-T7G-Ebo-Rib. The multibase furin recognition site (RRTRR at amino acid positions 497 to 501 of the GP) in pTM-T7G-Ebo-Rib was replaced with 497-AGTAA-501. The modified plasmid, designated pTM-T7G-Ebo-Rib-Cl(−), was transfected into Vero E6 cells, together with protein expression plasmids for the NP, VP30, VP35, and L proteins and for T7 RNA polymerase. Fresh Vero E6 cells were subsequently incubated with supernatants derived from the transfected cells. Six days later, cytopathic effects were observed in these cells. Indirect immunofluorescence assays with antiserum to Zaire Ebola virus GP/sGP verified virus replication (FIG. 2). Growth curves in Vero E6 cells demonstrated that although the mutant virus grew slightly more slowly than the wild-type virus (FIG. 3), it reached 1010 TCID50/ml at 3 days postinfection.

To confirm the presence of mutations in the GP cleavage motif, wild-type and mutant viruses were passaged three times in Vero E6 cells, RNA extracted from virions, and reverse transcriptase PCR performed with primers spanning the altered furin recognition motif. Direct sequencing of the PCR products confirmed the retention of mutations in the GP cleavage site (data not shown).

FIG. 4 shows the results of experiments testing the cleavability of the Ebola virus mutant GP lacking a furin recognition motif. Virions derived from labeled Vero E6 cells infected with wild-type or mutant virus were lysed, and viral proteins were detected by immunoprecipitation using a horse antiserum to Zaire Ebola virus. For wild-type virus, both cleavage products GP1 (140 kDa) and GP2 (26 kDa) were detected (FIGS. 4A and B, lanes 2). By contrast, alteration of the furin recognition sequence abolished the generation of GP1 and GP2, and only the precursor, GP0, was detected (FIGS. 4A and B, lanes 3), confirming that furin or related proteases are the major host cell proteases for GP cleavage. These results indicate that the furin recognition motif at the Ebola GP cleavage site is dispensable for replication of the virus in cell culture.

Discussion

Marburg and Ebola viruses have been difficult to study because they must be handled in high-containment facilities, and effective methods of experimental mutagenesis were lacking. These limitations have restricted the development of antiviral drugs and vaccines, although reports of potentially useful experimental vaccines (Hevey et al., 1998; Sullivan et al., 2000; Vanderzanden et al., 1998; Xu et al., 1998) and antibody-mediated treatments (Maruyama et al., 1999; and Wilson et al., 2000) are beginning to emerge. The use of a reverse genetics system, which enables one to generate Ebola virus mutants entirely from cloned cDNA as described herein, opens a new era of filovirus research.

For many viruses in the Orthomyxoviridae and Paramyxoviridae families, GP cleavage by furin and other host cell proteases is absolutely required for their infectivity and thus determines the extent of viral pathogenicity (Klenk et al., 1994). In contrast, findings with viruses pseudotyped with Ebola GPs as well as the present results demonstrate that GP cleavage is dispensable for replication of Ebola virus, at least in cell culture. The furin cleavage motif is highly conserved among all Ebola GP sequences determined thus far, and its conservation suggests a role in the viral life cycle. Hence, GP cleavage by furin is not critical for Ebola virus replication in the cells tested, but it may be required for Ebola virus replication in vivo and/or in its natural reservoir. Further studies with animal models will be needed to establish the role of GP cleavage in Ebola virus replication and pathogenicity.

T7 RNA polymerase-based reverse genetics systems rely on the expression of this enzyme within the transfected cells. To this end, two approaches have been explored (reviewed in Marriott et al., 1999; Nagai et al., 1999; and Roberts et al., 1999). T7 RNA polymerase has been provided from recombinant vaccinia virus or from stable cell lines constitutively expressing this enzyme. The former approach leaves investigators with the task of separating the artificially generated recombinant virus from vaccinia virus. On the other hand, cell lines expressing T7 RNA polymerase may produce insufficient amounts to efficiently transcribe the viral genome. In contrast to Volchkov et al. (2001), who used a BHK-21 cell line stably expressing T7 RNA polymerase, an entirely plasmid-based system is described herein which was achieved using T7 RNA polymerase expression under control of the strong chicken β-actin promoter. This approach resulted in 102 PFU of virus per ml of culture supernatant. Expression of T7 RNA polymerase from plasmids may therefore be an alternative for the generation of other nonsegmented, negative-sense RNA viruses, thereby circumventing restraints encountered with the established systems.

The reverse genetics systems for the generation of Ebola virus can be used to identify key regulatory elements and structure-function relationships in the viral life cycle, and allows the study of mechanisms of filovirus pathogenicity in animal models. The system also promotes the development of new vaccines and the development of replication-deficient viruses.

Example 2

Generation of Noninfectious Ebola Particles

Materials and Methods

Cells. 293 and 293T human embryonic kidney cells were maintained in DMEM supplemented with 10% fetal calf serum, 2% L-glutamine, and penicillin-streptomycin solution (DMEM-FCS) (Sigma). The cells were grown at 37° C. in 5% CO2.

Construction of Plasmids. To generate cDNA constructs encoding the VP40 protein, primers were used that bind to the start and stop codons (positions 4479 and 5459 of the positive-sense antigenomic RNA) to reverse transcribe and PCR-amplify purified viral RNA (Titan RT-PCR Kit, Roche). The PCR product was cloned in the pT7Blue vector (Novagen) resulting in pT7EboZVP40. The cloned Ebola VP40 gene was sequenced to ensure that unwanted nucleotide replacements were not present.

To generate plasmid pETEBoZVP40His for the expression of 6-histidine-tagged VP40 in Escherichia coli, pT7EboZVP40 was used as a template for PCR amplification with the appropriate primers. The PCR product was blunt-end ligated into the SmaI-digested site of vector pM (CLONETECH). This construct was digested with NdeI and EcoRI and the fragment containing VP40 was ligated into the expression vector pET-5a (Promega). To generate plasmids pCEboZVP40, pCEboZVP40AAXY, pCEboZVP40M 14A, pCEboZVP40/1-276, pCEboZVP40/1-226, pCEboZVP40/1-176, pCEboZVP40/50-326, and pCEboZVP40/100-326 (proteins expressed from these plasmids are designated VP40, VP40AAXY, and the like) for expression of VP40 and its mutants in eukaryotic cells, the Ebola Zaire VP40 gene was amplified from pT7EboZVP40 using specific forward primers, each containing an EcoRI site 5′ to the start of the coding region, and specific reverse primers, each containing a BglII site 3′ to the stop codon for each construct, and blunt-end ligated into the EcoRV-digested site of vector pT7Blue. Each construct was digested with EcoRI and BglII, and the fragment containing the VP40 gene or modified VP40 gene was cloned into the EcoRI and BglII-digested eukaryotic expression vector pCAGGS/MCS (expression controlled by the chicken β-actin promoter) (Kobasa et al., 1997; and Niwa et al., 1991). Eukaryotic expression constructs employed in this study are schematically presented in FIG. 5A.

Antibody. A polyclonal antibody against Ebola Zaire VP40 was produced as follows: BL21 E. coli cells were transformed with plasmid pETEboZVP40H is. Expression of the 6-His-tagged VP40 protein was induced with 1 mM IPTG for 3 hours. The E. coli cells were lysed and cellular debris was remove by centrifugation. The supernatant was purified over an Ni-NTA agarose column (Qiagen). Expression of VP40 was verified by SDS-PAGE followed by Western blotting using a monoclonal antibody against the histidine tag (Kodak). Rabbits were immunized with approximately 0.5 mg of VP40, and antibody against keratin present in the antiserum was removed with a keratin column (Girault et al., 1989).

Cell Transfection for Expression of VP40 and its Mutants. 293 or 293T cells (60-mm plates) were transfected with expression vectors with the use of the Trans IT LT-1 liposomal reagent (Panvera) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Briefly, DNA and transfection reagent were mixed (6 μl of Trans IT LT-1 with 3 μg of DNA) in 0.2 ml OPTI-MEM (Gibco-BRL), incubated for 30 minutes at room temperature, and added to the cells. Transfected cells were incubated at 37° C. until harvest of the supernatant and/or cell monolayer.

Particle Formation Assay. Particles were assayed by the method of Li et al (1993) with some modifications. Forty-eight hours after transfection of 293T cells with pCEboZVP40, pCEboZVP40AAXY, pCEboZVP40M14A, or pCEboZVP40/1-276, the culture medium was removed and placed on ice. The cell monolayer was washed with phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), scraped into lysis buffer (0.25 M Tris-HCl, pH 8.0, 0.5% Triton X-100) and kept at 4° C. The culture medium (2 ml) was centrifuged at 2,000 rpm in a microcentrifuge for 5 minutes to remove cellular debris, layered over 20% sucrose in STE buffer (0.01 M Tris-Cl, pH 7.5, 0.01 M NaCl, 0.001 M EDTA, pH 8.0) (2 ml), and centrifuged at 150,000×g for 2 hours at 4° C. After centrifugation, the supernatant was removed and added to the cell lysate. This mixture was saved for analysis of total protein expression. The pellet was resuspended in 1 ml STE buffer overnight at 4° C. The resuspended pellet was layered over a 10-50% discontinuous sucrose gradient in STE buffer, centrifuged at 150,000×g for 4 hours at 4° C., and fractions (1 ml) were collected from the top of the gradient. Each fraction was mixed with 0.25 ml of 50% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) (10% TCA), the fractions were incubated for 30 minutes on ice, and the precipitated proteins were pelleted by microcentrifugation for 15 minutes. The pellets were washed once with cold acetone, air-dried, and resuspended in 0.05 ml SDS-PAGE sample buffer. Proteins in the mixture of cell lysate and supernatant from centrifugation through 20% sucrose were precipitated with 10% TCA, washed with acetone, and resuspended in 0.5 ml SDS-PAGE sample buffer. Proteins were separated by 12% SDS-PAGE and detected by Western blotting. Fractions are numbered from the top to the bottom of the gradient.

Protease Protection Assay. 293T cells were transfected with pCEboZVP40 and, at 48 hours post-transfection, the culture medium was removed. The medium was microcentrifuged at 2,000 rpm for 5 minutes to remove cellular debris, layered over a 20% sucrose cushion, and centrifuged at 165,000×g for 1 hour at 4° C. The supernatant was removed and the pellet was resuspended overnight at 4° C. in 0.4 ml STE buffer. This resuspension was divided into six aliquots and treated following a protocol previously described (Mik et al., 1989): Aliquot 1 received no further treatment; aliquot 2 was treated with soybean trypsin inhibitor (Biofluids) to a final concentration of 3 mg/ml; aliquot 3 with triton X-100 to a final concentration of 1%; aliquot 4 with trypsin (Worthington) to a final concentration of 0.1 mg/ml; aliquot 5 with both Triton X-100 to 1% and trypsin to 0.1 mg/ml final concentration; and aliquot 6 with both trypsin inhibitor (3 mg/ml final) and trypsin (0.1 mg/ml final). The samples were incubated at room temperature for 30 minutes, after which an excess of trypsin inhibitor (5 mg/ml) was added to each aliquot. SDS-PAGE sample buffer (6X) was added to each aliquot. Proteins from each aliquot were separated by 12% SDS-PAGE and detected by Western blotting.

Membrane-Association Assay. The method of Bergmann and Fusco (1988) was used, with some modifications, to determine membrane-association of VP40 and its mutants. Briefly, 48 hours after transfection of 293 cells with pCEboZVP40 or a mutant-VP40 expression plasmid, the culture medium was removed, and the cell monolayer, after a wash with (PBS), was scraped into ice-cold sucrose homogenization buffer (10% wt/wt sucrose, 10 mM Tris-HCl (pH 7.4), 1 mM EDTA, and 10 mM iodoacetamide). Cells were disrupted with 30 strokes of a Dounce homogenizer on ice and microcentrifuged for 3 minutes at 2,000 rpm to remove nuclei. The resulting supernatant was made to 1 M NaCl or left untreated, incubated at room temperature for 20 minutes, made to 80% sucrose (wt/vol), placed at the bottom of a Beckman SW41 centrifuge tube, and overlaid with 5 ml of 65% (wt/vol) sucrose and 2.5 ml of 10% sucrose. The gradient was centrifuged to equilibrium at 150,000×g for 18 hours at 4° C. Fractions (1 ml) were collected from the top of the gradient, diluted 1:1 with TBS-Triton buffer (0.025 M Tris-HCl, pH 7.5, 0.15 M NaCl, 0.5% Triton X-100) or, for experiments involving expression of VP40/100-326, precipitated with TCA (as described for the particle formation assay) owing to the weak signal of this deletion construct in Western analysis, and mixed with SDS-PAGE sample buffer. Proteins from each aliquot were separated by 12% SDS-PAGE and detected by Western blotting.

Triton X-114 Phase Partitioning Analysis. The method used was essentially that of Bordier (1981). Forty-eight hours post-transfection of 293 cells pCEboZY40, pCEboZVP40/1-276, pCEboZVP40/1-226, pCEboZVP40/1-176, pCEboZP40/50-326, pCEboZVP40/100-326, or, as a control, a vector expressing A/WSN/33 (H1N1) influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA), cells were scraped into cold TN buffer (10 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.4, 150 mM NaCl), disrupted with 30 strokes in a Dounce homogenizer, and subjected to centrifugation at 2,000 rpm for 3 minutes to remove nuclei. Triton X-114 (Sigma) was added to each supernatant to 1%, and the resulting solution was incubated for 15 minutes at 4° C. with agitation. Unsolubilized material was pelleted by centrifugation in a picofuge for 5 minutes at 4° C., and the supernatant was heated to 37° C. for 5 minutes. The supernatant was layered onto a 37° C. sucrose (6%) cushion in TN buffer containing 0.06% Triton X-114 and centrifuged at 2,000 rpm for 3 minutes at room temperature. The detergent (lower) and aqueous (upper) phases were recovered separately, the aqueous phase was extracted a second time, like phases were pooled, and the detergent phase was diluted in TN buffer. Proteins in each phase were precipitated with 50% acetone and resuspended in SDS-PAGE sample buffer. Proteins were separated by 12% SDS-PAGE and analyzed by Western blotting.

Western Blotting. Samples in sample buffer (10 μl) were incubated at 100° C. for 5 minutes and separated on 12% polyacrylamide gels. Resolved proteins were transferred to Westran polyvinylidine difluoride membranes (Schleicher & Schuell) and blocked overnight at 4° C. with 5% skim milk in PBST (0.05% Tween 20 (Sigma) in PBS). Blots were incubated in primary antibody for 1 hour at room temperature, washed three times with PBST, incubated in biotinylated anti-rabbit secondary antibody (Vector Laboratories) for 30 minutes, washed three times with PBST, incubated in streptavidin-horseradish peroxidase reagent (Vector Laboratories) for 30 minutes and washed three times with PBST. Blots were then incubated in Lumi-Light Western blotting substrate (Boehringer-Mannheim) for 5 minutes and exposed to x-ray film (Kodak).

Results

Expression of VP40 in Mammalian Cells. To ensure that VP40 is expressed at efficient levels in human embryonic kidney 293T cells, the cell lysate was analyzed 24 hours after transfection with pCEboZVP40 by Western blotting. Two bands reacting with anti-VP40 polyclonal antibody were found, a small distance apart, in the range of 40 kDa (FIG. 6). The lysate from cells transfected with the expression vector alone did not react with the antibody.

VP40 contains an internal start codon at nucleotides 40-42 (codon 14) that is in frame with the first AUG. To determine whether protein synthesis from this internal start codon was responsible for the faster-migrating band on the gel, a construct was generated, pCEboZVP40M14A, which expresses a mutant VP40 with this second AUG changed to GCG, which encodes alanine, and expressed it as described above. Analysis of the cell lysate revealed a single, larger-sized band (FIG. 6), suggesting that the second AUG is used as a start codon to an appreciable extent in this system.

To determine whether loss of the PPXY motif at amino acids 10-13 of VP40 affects expression of the protein, 293T cells were transfected with pCEboZVP40AAXY, which expresses a mutant VP40 in which the PPEY sequence at amino acids 10-13 was changed to AAEY. Two bands corresponding to those seen with the expression of wild-type VP40 were detected (FIG. 6). However, in contrast to the results obtained with wild-type VP40 expression, where the slower-migrating band was the predominate product, pCEboZVP40AAXY expressed the two products at similar levels, indicating that loss of the PPXY motif affects either the translation of VP40 or its stability.

Production of Membrane-Bound Particles. To determine whether VP40-associated vesicles are produced when the protein is expressed in the absence of other viral proteins, 293T cells were transfected with pCEboZVP40 and, after 48 hours, collected the supernatant. After removal of cellular debris, the supernatant was subjected to ultracentrifugation over a 20% sucrose cushion. The pellet was resuspended and centrifuged through a 10-50% discontinuous sucrose gradient, and fractions were analyzed by Western blotting (FIG. 7). Fractions 6-8 contained VP40, with the majority of the protein found in fraction 7. The VP40 in fractions 6-8 was most likely associated with membrane lipids in a particle-like structure, as the sucrose densities in these fractions ranged from 1.11 to 1.13 g/ml, which corresponds to findings for matrix protein-generated particles of other viruses (Giddings et al., 1998; Sandefur et al., 1998). Bands detected below full-length protein in the total protein fraction are likely degradation products. These data indicate that VP40 expressed in the absence of other viral proteins can produce membrane-bound particles.

Protease Protection Assay. To confirm the ability of VP40 to produce membrane-bound particles when expressed alone, a trypsin protection assay was employed. Culture supernatant from cells transfected with pCEboZVP40 was centrifuged at 165,000×g through 20% sucrose, and the pellet was resuspended in STE buffer and divided into six equal aliquots. Aliquots 1-3 served as controls (untreated, trypsin inhibitor treated, and triton X-100 treated), aliquot 4 was treated with trypsin, aliquot 5 with trypsin and triton X-100, and aliquot 6 with trypsin inhibitor and trypsin. Trypsin degraded VP40 only in the presence of triton X-100 (FIG. 7), indicating that the viral protein does induce the production of fully membrane-bound particles; that is, trypsin digestion of VP40 required disruption of the lipid-bilayer surrounding the protein.

VP40 Mutants and Membrane-Bound Particle Formation. Does the PPXY motif at amino acids 10-13 of VP40 contribute to particle production? To address this question, VP40AAXY was expressed in 293T cells and assayed for particles as described for wild-type VP40. VP40AAXY was not detected in fractions corresponding to the sucrose densities to which wild-type VP40 particles migrated (FIG. 7). Since VP40AAXY was synthesized at levels similar to wild-type VP40, this finding indicates that mutation of the PPXY motif markedly disrupts VP40-generated vesicle formation.

FIG. 7 also shows the effect of loss of the second AUG codon on particle formation. A substantial amount of VP40M14A was present in fractions 5-8 in the gradient, and the percentage of total VP40M14A expressed in 293T cells that contributed to membrane-bound particle formation was much greater than the percentage of total wild-type VP40 involved in particle formation. This result is consistent with the finding that the PPXY motif present immediately upstream of the second AUG is critical for VP40-associated particle formation (FIG. 7).

To determine whether the C-terminus of VP40 is essential for particle formation, a deletion mutant, VP40/1-276, was assayed which lacks the final 50 amino acids of VP40, for particle generation. Since this deletion mutant was not present at the same sucrose densities that characterized the migration of wild-type VP40, it was concluded that the first 276 amino acids of VP40 are not sufficient for particle formation (FIG. 7).

VP40 Association with Cell Membranes and Structural Requirements for Activity. Flotation analysis was used to determine if VP40 binds cellular membranes efficiently in mammalian cells. In this method, postnuclear membrane fractions in 80% sucrose are loaded at the bottom of a centrifuge tube and overlaid with 65% and 10% sucrose. During centrifugation, cellular membranes and their associated proteins float to the 10-65% sucrose interface, while soluble proteins remain in the dense sucrose fractions at the bottom of the tube.

A large percentage of wild-type VP40 was found at the 10-65% sucrose interface (fraction 3), while the remaining protein was found in the loading zone (fractions 8-12) (FIG. 9), indicating that VP40 does indeed bind cellular membranes. To clarify the interactions involved in this association, VP40-associated membranes were treated with 1 M NaCl to determine whether electrostatic interactions were required for this association and subjected them to flotation analysis. Salt treatment had a negligible affect on the ability of VP40 to associate with membranes (FIG. 9), suggesting that the protein contains at least one hydrophobic domain able to associate with membranes.

To elucidate the domain(s) of VP40 important for membrane association, deletion mutants were generated. Constructs expressing amino acids 50-326 (pCEboZVP40/50-326), amino acids 100-326 (pCEboZVP40/100-326), amino acids 1-176 (pCEboZVP40/1-176), amino acids 1-226 (pCEboZVP40/1-226), and amino acids 1-276 (pCEboZVP40/1-276) of VP40 were expressed in 293 cells and their membrane association in the presence or absence of 1 M NaCl was examined. The mutants with the largest truncations, VP40/1-176 and VP40/100-326, showed the highest level of association with the lipid bilayer (FIG. 9). Salt treatment did not affect these interactions. Mutants VP40/1-226 and VP40/50-326 associated with membranes to the extent found with wild-type VP40, and these interactions were also relatively unperturbed by treatment with salt. By contrast, only a small portion of VP40/1-276 associated with the lipid bilayer, and this interaction was eliminated upon treatment with salt. These results indicate that loss of the C-terminal 50 amino acids of VP40 markedly alters the membrane-binding capabilities of VP40, primarily by disrupting hydrophobic interactions. This effect was ameliorated when 50 additional C-terminal amino acids were deleted, and membrane-association was promoted when the protein was further truncated to 176 amino acids. Deletion of the N-terminal 49 amino acids of VP40 did not alter the membrane-binding characteristics of the protein, although truncation of 50 additional N-terminal amino acids did enhance protein-membrane association, as seen with VP40/1-176 (FIG. 9).

Since particle formation was markedly reduced with VP40AAXY, cells expressing this mutant were subjected to flotation analysis in order to determine whether a decreased ability to bind membranes was involved in this deficiency. As shown in FIG. 10, the loss of the PPXY motif in VP40 did not affect the ability of the protein to bind membranes, indicating that lack of particle production with this mutant was not due to the loss of membrane association.

Flotation analysis was also used to determine whether the more efficient particle formation induced by VP40M14A, by comparison to wild-type VP40, could be attributed, at least in part, to increased membrane binding by this mutant. The percentage of VP40M14A associated with membranes was only slightly greater than that determined for wild-type VP40 (FIG. 10), indicating that this mutant relies on another mechanism to increase particle formation.

Triton X-114 Phase Partitioning Analysis. To probe the nature of the VP40-membrane interaction further, Triton X-114 phase partitioning analysis was used as integral membrane proteins and lipid anchored proteins partition in the detergent phase of a protein extraction and peripheral membrane proteins partition in the aqueous phase. FIG. 11 shows the results of this analysis for wild-type VP40, the five deletion mutants of VP40, and influenza virus HA. HA, an integral membrane protein, was found entirely in the detergent phase of the extraction, as expected. Only a small portion of total VP40 was found in the detergent phase, while VP40/1-276 was found almost entirely in the aqueous phase. VP40/1-226 and VP40/50-326 partitioned in the detergent phase in proportions similar to that found for wild-type VP40. By contrast, when VP40/1-176 and VP40/100-326 were expressed, large proportions of each partitioned in the detergent phase. These results indicate that wild-type VP40 possesses only minor traits of an integral membrane protein, and that deletion of its C-terminal 50 amino acids (VP40/1-276) abrogates these features. Further truncation of the C-terminus (VP40/1-226 and VP40/1-176) enhances the integral membrane character of protein. Deletion of the N-terminal 49 amino acids of VP40 (VP40/50-326) does not alter the general structural features of the protein, while deletion of amino acids 1-99 (VP40/100-326) appears to increase the extent of anchoring to lipids.

Discussion

Thus, VP40 of Ebola virus, when expressed in the absence of other viral proteins, can induce the formation of membrane-encompassed particles, much in the manner of the matrix proteins of VSV, rabies, and simian immunodeficiency virus (Giddings et al., 1998; Harty et al., 1999; Justice et al., 1995; Li et al., 1993). Cellular proteins containing the WW domain are, in all likelihood, crucial for this process, as VP40 containing an altered version of a PPXY motif at amino acids 10-13 induces little or no particle formation. Harty et al. (1999) demonstrated that the matrix proteins of VSV and rabies viruses, which possess this motif at their N-termini, bind the cellular Yes-kinase-associated and Nedd4 proteins via a PPXY motif-WW domain, interaction, and that the loss of this motif results in impaired virus release from infected cells. Jayakar et al. (2000) recently demonstrated that mutation of the PPXY motif in the matrix protein of VSV impedes budding of fully assembled virions at the plasma membrane. The data described herein provides evidence for an important role of the PPXY motif in particle formation induced by VP40, and suggest that cellular proteins are crucial players in this process.

The efficiency of particle production markedly increased when the second ATG codon of VP40 (codon 14) was changed to GCG (alanine), but the reason for this enhancement remains unclear. This ATG codon immediately follows the PPXY motif. Perhaps the faster-migrating version of VP40, which lacks the PPXY motif, interferes with the assembly or budding of full-length VP40 molecules at the cell surface, or with the interaction between VP40 and a cellular protein. Whether translation from this second ATG occurs in actual viral infection or is an artifact of the system employed in this study is unknown.

Ruigrok et al. (2000) reported that VP40 expressed in E. coli can bind liposomes in vitro and that this interaction is largely electrostatic. In mammalian cells, a substantial amount of VP40 bound to the cellular membrane, and that this interaction was disrupted negligibly by the presence of 1 M NaCl, indicating that at least one hydrophobic domain is involved in this interaction. A small but appreciable portion of VP40 partitioned with detergent in the manner of an integral membrane or lipid-anchored protein in Triton X-114 phase-partitioning analysis. This result, together with the inability of 1 M NaCl to dissociate VP40 from the lipid bilayer, indicates that the protein has certain properties of an integral membrane protein, as do a number of matrix proteins of negative-stranded RNA viruses (Chong et al., 1993; Zhang et al., 1996), even though Ebola VP40 does not appear to contain a region of significant length and hydrophobicity to span the cell membrane (FIG. 5B). Short hydrophobic stretches of VP40 may be able to penetrate the lipid bilayer to some extent, lending modest integral-membrane character to the protein.

Ruigrok et al. (2000) also reported that a deletion mutant of VP40 containing amino acids 31-212 failed to bind liposomes efficiently, indicating that the C-terminus of VP40 is absolutely required for membrane binding. To elucidate the domains involved in the association of VP40 with cellular membranes, carboxy and amino-terminal deletion mutants were constructed. VP40 lacking its C-terminal 50 amino acids demonstrated appreciably reduced membrane association. The Kyte-Doolittle hydrophobicity plot (1982) of VP40 (FIG. 5B) indicates that amino acids 277-326 of the protein are primarily hydrophobic, so that deletion of amino acids 277-326 eliminates a substantial hydrophobic region that is likely important for efficient membrane-binding by the full-length protein. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that 1 M NaCl completely disrupted this association, suggesting that affinity of this deletion construct with the lipid bilayer depends primarily on electrostatic interactions.

When amino acids 227-326 of VP40 were deleted, the resulting truncated protein associated with the lipid bilayer as efficiently as wild-type VP40; moreover, C-terminal deletion of amino acids 177-326 resulted in a protein with much higher affinity for the lipid bilayer than was found for wild-type VP40. Salt treatment did not perturb membrane association of these truncated versions of VP40, indicating the presence of hydrophobic interactions mediated by the N-terminal 176 amino acids of the protein.

The hydrophobicity plot indicates that amino acids 227-276, and particularly amino acids 177-226, are primarily hydrophilic. Deletion of the hydrophilic residues present in this region of VP40 may allow the truncated protein to fold into a structure capable of strong hydrophobic association with the cell membrane, perhaps by effectively exposing the highly hydrophobic central domain of the protein. These results are consistent with data obtained by Triton X-114 extraction analysis (FIG. 11). Since VP40 lacking its C-terminal 50 amino acids was unable to produce particles (FIG. 7), and these C-terminal residues appear to be required for efficient membrane association of VP40, binding of this highly hydrophobic region to the lipid bilayer may be an essential step in the particle formation process.

The crystal structure of amino acids 31-326 of Ebola virus was recently elucidated by Dessen et al. (2000). It shows VP40 to be distinct from other viral matrix proteins, in that it consists of two similar domains connected by a flexible linker at amino acids 195-200. Ruigrok et al. (2000) showed that amino acids 31-212 of VP40 form hexamers spontaneously in solution. Dessen and associates postulate that, during the life cycle of Ebola virus, VP40 molecules associate with the lipid bilayer through interactions contributed primarily by their C-termini. After membrane binding, the molecules undergo a conformational change that frees their N-termini for hexamerization. These hexamers then form building blocks for a lattice that underlies the plasma membrane, and subsequently may interact with the cytoplasmic tails of viral glycoproteins and/or the ribonucleoprotein complex. This model is based on data demonstrating the hexamerization of VP40 molecules that lack their N-terminal 30 amino acids as well as their C-terminal 114 amino acids. The PPXY motif that appears crucial for membrane-bound particle formation is located at amino acids 10-13 of VP40, and this motif most likely interacts with a cellular protein that exhibits a WW domain during virus particle assembly or budding. It has not yet been demonstrated that VP40 with a truncated C-terminus can form hexamers when the entire N-terminus is present. If hexamerization does occur during virion morphogenesis, the 18 hexamers that form presumably must leave the PPXY motif accessible to cellular proteins that participate in particle formation and/or budding.

Example 3

Particles Comprising Filovirus Matrix Protein and Glycoprotein

Materials and Methods

Cells. 293T human embryonic kidney cells were maintained in Dulbecco's modified Eagle medium supplemented with 10% fetal calf serum, L-glutamine and penicillin-streptomycin-gentamicin solution. The cells were grown in an incubator at 37° C. in 5% CO2.

Plasmids. Full-length cDNAs encoding the Ebola virus (species Zaire) VP40 or GP were cloned separately into a mammalian expression vector, pCAGGS/MCS (Kobasa et al., 1997; Niwa et al., 1991), which contains the chicken β-actin promoter. The resultant constructs were designated pCEboZVP40 and pCEboZGP, respectively.

Cell Transfection for Expression of VP40 and GP. 293T cells (1×106) were transfected with plasmids using the Trans IT LT-1 reagent (Panvera, Madison, Wis.) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Briefly, 1 μg of DNA in 0.1 ml Opti-MEM (Gibco-BRL) and 3 μl of the transfection reagent were mixed, incubated for 10 minutes at room temperature, and added to the cells. Transfected cells were incubated at 37° C. for 24 or 48 hours.

Electron Microscopy. Ultrathin section electron microscopy was performed as follows. Twenty-four hours post-transfection of 293T cells with plasmids, the cells were washed with phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) and fixed for 20 minutes with 2.5% glutaraldehyde (GLA) in 0.1 M cacodylate buffer (pH 7.4). They were scraped off the dish, pelleted by low-speed centrifugation and then fixed for 30 minutes with the same fixative. Small pieces of fixed pellet were washed with the same buffer, postfixed with 2% osmium tetroxide in the same buffer for 1 hour at 4° C., dehydrated with a series of ethanol gradients followed by propylene oxide, embedded in Epon 812 Resin mixture (TAAB) and polymerized at 70° C. for 2 days. For immune electron microscopy, cells were fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde and 0.1% GLA, dehydrated and embedded in LR White Resin (London Resin Company Ltd.). Thin sections were stained with uranil acetate and lead citrate, and examined with a JEM-1200EX electron microscope at 80 Kv.

For negative staining, culture media of 293T cells were collected at 24 hours post-transfection onto a Formvar-coated copper grid, stained with 2% phosphotungstic acid solution (PTA) and examined with a JEM-1200 electron microscope at 80 Kv.

For immune electron microscopy, the samples were absorbed to Formvar-coated nickel grids and washed with PBS containing 0.5% bovine serum albumin (PBS-BSA). The grids were then treated with mouse anti-GP monoclonal antibody (a mixture of ZGP12, ZGP42, and ZGP133 (31); 1:150 in PBS-BSA) or rabbit anti-VP40 polyclonal antibody (1:300 in PBS-BSA), and rinsed six times with PBS, followed by incubation with a goat antimouse immunoglobulin conjugated to 15-nm gold particles (1:50 dilution; BBlnternational) or a goat antirabbit immunoglobulin conjugated to 5-nm gold particles (1:100 dilution; BBlnternational). After washing, the samples were fixed for 10 min in 2% glutaraldehyde and negatively stained with 2% PTA.

Results

Pleomorphic Particle Formation by GP. To determine the morphology of vesicles induced by Ebola virus GP expression, GP-expressing cells and their supernatants were analyzed by electron microscopy. The ultrathin sections of these cells showed particle-like structures with surface spikes budding from the plasma membrane (FIG. 12A); no such structures were observed using cells transfected with the expression vector alone (FIG. 12B). As previously observed in the recombinant vaccinia virus system (Volchkov et al., 1998), pleomorphic structures similar to virosomes with a range of diameters were apparent in the supernatants of GP-expressing cells (FIGS. 13 A and B). The spikes on the surface of the vesicles reacted with anti-GP monoclonal antibodies (FIGS. 13 C and D), confirming the GP derivation of the structures.

VP40 Induces Filamentous Particle Formation. To determine how VP40 protein expressed in 293T cells is released into culture medium (Harty et al., 2000; Timmins et al., 2001; Example 2), the VP40-expressing cells were analyzed by transmission electron microscopy. The ultrathin sections of the cells expressing VP40 showed budding of filamentous structures (approximately 65 nm in diameter) on the cell surface (FIG. 14A). In some cells, the plasma membranes appeared ruffled and to consist of two bilayers (FIG. 14C). Aggregated ribosomes (FIG. 14E, arrows) were occasionally found in the cytoplasm of cells expressing VP40, as were electron-dense filamentous structures (approximately 45 nm in diameter; FIG. 14F, arrowheads), which were never seen in cells transfected with the expression vector alone. The budding particles and membrane ruffles reacted with rabbit anti-VP40 polyclonal antibody (FIGS. 14B and D), confirming that VP40 had contributed to the generation of these structures. In studies to further determine the size and morphology of the VP40 particles released from cells, the supernatants of cells expressing this protein were centrifuged through 20% sucrose, and the pelleted material was negatively stained with 2% PTA and analyzed by electron microscopy. Filamentous particles, which had uniform diameters of approximately 65 nm but varied lengths, were observed (FIGS. 15A-C). These results indicate that VP40 alone can induce the formation of filamentous particles, which bud from the cell surface.

VP40-GP Interaction in Particle Morphogenesis. To determine how GP expression affects VP40-driven particle formation, 293T cells were transfected with both VP40- and GP-expressing plasmids. In ultrathin sections of the transfected cells, filamentous particle-like structures of 80-nm external diameter were observed that were budding from the plasma membrane (FIGS. 16A and B). The structures possessed spikes of approximately 10 nm on their surface, in contrast to the structures observed in cells expressing VP40 alone (FIG. 14A). Also, unlike the findings with expression of GP alone, few pleomorphic particles were observed. The particle structures were studied in more detail after negative staining of the particles in culture supernatants of cells expressing both VP40 and GP. Filamentous Ebola virus-like particles with surface spikes of approximately 85-nm in external diameter and lengths that ranged to 10 μm were observed (FIGS. 17A-C). The spikes projected from the particle surface at 5- to 10-nm intervals and were morphologically indistinguishable from those on the Ebola virion surface (Feldmann et al., 1996; Peters et al., 1995). Labeling of the spikes with a mixture of anti-GP monoclonal antibodies conjugated with gold particles confirmed their identity as GP (FIG. 17D). Furthermore, when treated with 0.03% Triton X-100 and with both the anti-VP40 antibody conjugated to 5-nm gold particles and a mixture of anti-GP monoclonal antibodies conjugated to 15-nm gold particles, the filamentous particles became labeled with both antibodies, demonstrating that the Ebola vires-like particles contained GP as well as VP40 proteins (FIG. 17E). These results demonstrate GP incorporation into VP40-generated filamentous structures, without affecting filamentous particle formation.

Discussion

A hallmark of Ebola virus is its filamentous virions as featured in its family name Filoviridae. The shape of enveloped viruses are determined by viral proteins in retroviruses (Campbell et al., 1997; Gay et al., 1998; Joshi et al., 2000) or by both viral RNA length and proteins in VSV (Pattnaik et al., 1991). Because specific interactions among viral components are required for the formation of defined virion shapes, understanding of such interactions can lead to the identification of targets for the development of antiviral compounds.

As shown herein by electron microscopy, the expression of VP40 in the absence of any other Ebola vires proteins leads to the formation of filamentous particles, which resemble spikeless virions released into the supernatant of cultured Ebola virus-infected cells (Geisbert et al., 1995). Thus, these results suggest that the Ebola virus VP40 possesses structural information necessary and sufficient to induce the formation of filamentous particles, which then bud from the plasma membrane. Interestingly, some filamentous structures were observed in the cytoplasm of cells expressing VP40 as have been found in the cytoplasm of the cells infected with Ebola virus. Similar structures have also been observed in cells expressing the M1 protein of influenza virus or the GAG protein of retrovirus (Delchambre et al., 1989; Gheyson et al., 1989; Gomez-Puertas et al., 2000). However, the tubular structures observed upon expression of influenza virus M1 alone were not seen during normal viral infection or when M1 was coexpressed with other influenza viral proteins. Thus, VP40 may form intracellular filamentous structures by self-aggregation.

Membrane ruffles containing VP40 protein were observed in some VP40-expressing cells (FIGS. 14C and D). The M protein of VSV induces similar double-layered membranes at the cell surface when expressed from recombinant Sendai virus (Sakaguchi et al, 1999). IpaC protein secreted by Shigella flexneri has also been linked to large-scale membrane extension in macrophages, including lamellipodia and membrane ruffles (Kuwae et al, 2001; Tran Van Nhieu et al., 1999), while Salmonella typhimurium triggers the formation of host cell membrane ruffles in nonphagocytic cells (Ginocchio et al., 1994; Zhou et al., 1999). These membrane ruffles are thought to result from interactions between the bacterial proteins, including IpaC, and the actin cytoskeletons of host cells (Tran Van Nhieu et al., 1999; Zhou et al., 1999). In Ebola virus-infected cells, host cell plasma membranes proliferate extensively at the peak stage of viral budding (Geisbert et al, 1995), as observed in cells expressing VP40 alone. Thus, VP40 may interact with actin filaments during the assembly or budding of Ebola virus at the cell surface.

The impact of glycoprotein interaction with the matrix protein on virion morphology differs among viruses. For example, deletion of the cytoplasmic tails of the influenza virus hemagglutinin and neuraminidase alters virus morphology (Jin et al., 1997; Mitnaul et al., 1996), while the characteristic morphology of rabies virus and VSV do not depend on glycoprotein-matrix protein interaction (Mebatsion et al, 1996; Mebatsion et al., 1994; Schnell et al., 1998; Takada et al., 1997). The Ebola virus GP, like VSV-G, was incorporated into filamentous particles without affecting the morphology of the particles. However, such interaction may contribute to the efficiency of budding, as demonstrated by research on VSV (Jayakar et al., 2000; Mebatsion et al., 1999).

In conclusion, VP40 induces VP40 containing-filamentous particle formation and GP spikes are incorporated into VP40 induced-filamentous particles upon coexpression of GP and VP40, resulting in Ebola virus-like particles. This virus-like particle formation system will be useful to further elucidate the mechanism of Ebola virus particle formation, including the functional link among Ebola viral and cellular components.

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All publications, patents and patent applications are incorporated herein by reference. While in the foregoing specification this invention has been described in relation to certain preferred embodiments thereof, and many details have been set forth for purposes of illustration, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that the invention is susceptible to additional embodiments and that certain of the details described herein may be varied considerably without departing from the basic principles of the invention.