We have shown that the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) gK gene is essential for efficient replication and spread in the corneal epithelium and trigeminal ganglion neuroinvasion in mice (A. T. David, A. Baghian, T. P. Foster, V. N. Chouljenko, and K. G. Kousoulas, Curr. Eye Res. 33:455-467, 2008). To further investigate the role of gK in neuronal infection, we utilized a microfluidic chamber system separating neuronal cell bodies and axonal termini. HSV-1 (McKrae) engineered virus constitutively expressing enhanced green fluorescence protein (GFP) was efficiently transmitted in both a retrograde and an anterograde manner. These results were corroborated by expression of virion structural proteins in either chamber, as well as detection of viral genomes and infectious viruses. In contrast, efficient infection of either chamber with a gK-null virus did not result in infection of the apposed chamber. These results show that gK is an important determinant in virion axonal infection. Moreover, the inability of the gK-null virus to be transmitted in an anterograde manner suggests that virions acquire cytoplasmic envelopes prior to entering axons.
Importance: Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) enters mucosal epithelial cells and neurons via fusion of the viral envelope with cellular membranes, mediated by viral glycoprotein B (gB) in cooperation with other viral glycoproteins. Retrograde transport of virions to neuronal cell bodies (somata) establishes lifelong latent infection in ganglionic neurons. We have previously reported that gK binds gB and is required for gB-mediated membrane fusion (Jambunatathan et al., J. Virol. 85:12910-12918, 2011; V. N. Chouljenko, A. V. Iyer, S. Chowdhury, J. Kim, and K. G. Kousoulas, J. Virol. 84:8596-8606, 2010). In the current study, we constructed a recombinant virus with the gK gene deleted in the highly virulent ocular HSV-1 strain McKrae. This recombinant virus failed to infect rat ganglionic neuronal axons alone or cocultured with Vero cells in microfluidic chambers. In addition, lack of gK expression prevented anterograde transmission of virions. These results suggest that gK is a critical determinant for neuronal infection and transmission.