Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) encodes several proteins that lack well-defined functions; these include NS1, NS2, SH, and M2-2. Previous work has demonstrated that NS2, SH, and M2-2 can each be deleted from RSV genome and thus are considered as accessory proteins. To determine whether RSV can replicate efficiently when two or more transcriptional units are deleted, we removed NS1, NS2, SH, and M2-2 genes individually and in different combinations from an infectious cDNA clone derived from human RSV A2 strain. The following six mutants with two or more genes deleted were obtained: DeltaNS1NS2, DeltaM2-2SH, DeltaM2-2NS2, DeltaSHNS1, DeltaSHNS2, and DeltaSHNS1NS2. Deletion of M2-2 together with NS1 was detrimental to RSV replication. It was not possible to obtain a recombinant RSV when all four genes were deleted. All of the double and triple deletion mutants exhibited reduced replication and small plaque morphology in vitro. Replication of these deletion mutants was more reduced in HEp-2 cells than in Vero cells. Among the 10 single and multiple gene deletion mutants obtained, DeltaM2-2NS2 was most attenuated. DeltaM2-2NS2 formed barely visible plaques in HEp-2 cells and had a reduction of titer of 3 log(10) compared with the wild-type recombinant RSV in infected HEp-2 cells. When inoculated intranasally into cotton rats, all of the deletion mutants were attenuated in the respiratory tract. Our data indicated that the NS1, NS2, SH, and M2-2 proteins, although dispensable for virus replication in vitro, provide auxiliary functions for efficient RSV replication.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.