Effect of in vitro syncytium formation on the severity of human metapneumovirus disease in a murine model

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 24;10(3):e0120283. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120283. eCollection 2015.


Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is an important cause of acute respiratory tract infections (ARTI) in children, elderly individuals and immunocompromised patients. In vitro, different HMPV strains can induce variable cytopathic effects ranging from large multinucleated syncytia to focal cell rounding. In this study, we investigated the impact of different in vitro phenotypes of two HMPV strains on viral replication and disease severity in a BALB/c mouse model. We first generated two recombinant GFP-expressing HMPV viruses: C-85473, a syncytium-inducing strain (rC-85473) belonging to the A1 subtype and CAN98-75, a focal cell rounding-inducing strain (rCAN98-75) of the B2 subtype. We subsequently exchanged the F genes of both strains to create the chimeric viruses rC-85473_F and rCAN98-75_F. We demonstrated that the F protein was the sole protein responsible for the syncytium phenotype and that viruses carrying a syncytium-inducing F protein replicated to significantly higher titers in vitro. In vivo, however, the virulence and replicative capacity of the different HMPV strains did not appear to be solely dependent on the F gene but also on the viral background, with the strains containing the C-85473 background inducing more weight loss as well as increased lung viral titers, pro-inflammatory cytokines and inflammation than strains containing the CAN98-75 background. In conclusion, the F protein is the main determinant of syncytium formation and replication kinetics in vitro, although it is not the only factor implicated in HMPV disease severity in mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genes, Viral
  • Giant Cells / pathology*
  • Giant Cells / virology
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung / virology
  • Metapneumovirus / genetics*
  • Metapneumovirus / pathogenicity*
  • Metapneumovirus / physiology
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Paramyxoviridae Infections / pathology*
  • Paramyxoviridae Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / pathology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Virus Replication


  • Viral Proteins