A key characteristic of arenaviruses is their ability to establish persistent infection in their natural host. Different factors like host age, viral dose strain, and route of infection may contribute to the establishment of persistence. However, the molecular mechanisms governing persistence are not fully understood. Here, we describe gain-of-function mutations of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) expressing Lassa virus (LASV) GP, which can prolong viremia in mice depending on the sequences in the GP-2 cytoplasmic tail. The initial mutant variant (rLCMV/LASV mut GP) carried a point mutation in the cytosolic tail of the LASV glycoprotein GP corresponding to a K461G substitution. Unlike what occurred with the original rLCMV/LASV wild-type (wt) GP, infection of C57BL/6 mice with the mutated recombinant virus led to a detectable viremia of 2 weeks' duration. Further replacement of the entire sequence of the cytosolic tail from LASV to LCMV GP resulted in increased viral titers and delayed clearance of the viruses. Biosynthesis and cell surface localization of LASV wt and mut GPs were comparable.
Importance: Starting from an emerging virus in a wild-type mouse, we engineered a panel of chimeric Lassa/lymphocytic choriomeningitis viruses. Mutants carrying a viral envelope with the cytosolic tail from the closely related mouse-adapted LCMV were able to achieve a productive viral infection lasting up to 27 days in wild-type mice. Biochemical assays showed a comparable biosynthesis and cell surface localization of LASV wt and mut GPs. These recombinant chimeric viruses could allow the study of immune responses and antivirals targeting the LASV GP.
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