Background: Nonstructural glycoprotein 4 (NSP4) encoded by rotavirus is the only viral protein currently believed to function as an enterotoxin. NSP4 is synthesized as an intracellular transmembrane glycoprotein and as such is essential for virus assembly. Infection of polarized Caco-2 cells with rotavirus also results in the secretion of glycosylated NSP4 apparently in a soluble form despite retention of its transmembrane domain. We have examined the structure, solubility and cell-binding properties of this secreted form of NSP4 to further understand the biochemical basis for its enterotoxic function. We show here that NSP4 is secreted as discrete detergent-sensitive oligomers in a complex with phospholipids and demonstrate that this secreted form of NSP4 can bind to glycosaminoglycans present on the surface of a range of different cell types.
Methods: NSP4 was purified from the medium of infected cells after ultracentrifugation and ultrafiltration by successive lectin-affinity and ion exchange chromatography. Oligomerisation of NSP4 was examined by density gradient centrifugation and chemical crosslinking and the lipid content was assessed by analytical thin layer chromatography and flame ionization detection. Binding of NSP4 to various cell lines was measured using a flow cytometric-based assay.
Results: Secreted NSP4 formed oligomers that contained phospholipid but dissociated to a dimeric species in the presence of non-ionic detergent. The purified glycoprotein binds to the surface of various non-infected cells of distinct lineage. Binding of NSP4 to HT-29, a cell line of intestinal origin, is saturable and independent of divalent cations. Complementary biochemical approaches reveal that NSP4 binds to sulfated glycosaminoglycans on the plasma membrane.
Conclusion: Our study is the first to analyze an authentic (i.e. non-recombinant) form of NSP4 that is secreted from virus-infected cells. Despite retention of the transmembrane domain, secreted NSP4 remains soluble in an aqueous environment as an oligomeric lipoprotein that can bind to various cell types via an interaction with glycosaminoglycans. This broad cellular tropism exhibited by NSP4 may have implications for the pathophysiology of rotavirus disease.