Severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) virus is an emerging bunyavirus that causes a hemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate. The virus is likely tick-borne and replicates primarily in hemopoietic cells, which may lead to disregulation of proinflammatory cytokine induction and loss of leukocytes and platelets. The viral genome contains L, M, and S segments encoding a viral RNA polymerase, glycoproteins G(n) and G(c), nucleoprotein (NP), and a nonstructural S segment (NSs) protein. NSs protein is involved in the regulation of host innate immune responses and suppression of IFNβ-promoter activities. In this article, we demonstrate that NSs protein can form viroplasm-like structures (VLSs) in infected and transfected cells. NSs protein molecules interact with one another, interact with NP, and were associated with viral RNA in infected cells, suggesting that NSs protein may be involved in viral replication. Furthermore, we observed that NSs-formed VLS colocalized with lipid droplets and that inhibitors of fatty acid biosynthesis decreased VLS formation or viral replication in transfected and infected cells. Finally, we have demonstrated that viral dsRNAs were also localized in VLS in infected cells, suggesting that NSs-formed VLS may be implicated in the replication of SFTS bunyavirus. These findings identify a novel function of nonstructural NSs in SFTSV-infected cells where it is a scaffolding component in a VLS functioning as a virus replication factory. This function is in addition to the role of NSs protein in modulating host responses that will broaden our understanding of viral pathogenesis of phleboviruses.
Keywords: bunyavirus; nucleoprotein; viral replication.