Influenza virus-induced caspase-dependent enlargement of nuclear pores promotes nuclear export of viral ribonucleoprotein complexes

J Virol. 2015 Jun;89(11):6009-21. doi: 10.1128/JVI.03531-14. Epub 2015 Mar 25.


Influenza A viruses (IAV) replicate their segmented RNA genome in the nucleus of infected cells and utilize caspase-dependent nucleocytoplasmic export mechanisms to transport newly formed ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs) to the site of infectious virion release at the plasma membrane. In this study, we obtained evidence that apoptotic caspase activation in IAV-infected cells is associated with the degradation of the nucleoporin Nup153, an integral subunit of the nuclear pore complex. Transmission electron microscopy studies revealed a distinct enlargement of nuclear pores in IAV-infected cells. Transient expression and subcellular accumulation studies of multimeric marker proteins in virus-infected cells provided additional evidence for increased nuclear pore diameters facilitating the translocation of large protein complexes across the nuclear membrane. Furthermore, caspase 3/7 inhibition data obtained in this study suggest that active, Crm1-dependent IAV RNP export mechanisms are increasingly complemented by passive, caspase-induced export mechanisms at later stages of infection.

Importance: In contrast to the process seen with most other RNA viruses, influenza virus genome replication occurs in the nucleus (rather than the cytoplasm) of infected cells. Therefore, completion of the viral replication cycle critically depends on intracellular transport mechanisms that ensure the translocation of viral ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes across the nuclear membrane. Here, we demonstrate that virus-induced cellular caspase activities cause a widening of nuclear pores, thereby facilitating nucleocytoplasmic translocation processes and, possibly, promoting nuclear export of newly synthesized RNPs. These passive transport mechanisms are suggested to complement Crm1-dependent RNP export mechanisms known to occur at early stages of the replication cycle and may contribute to highly efficient production of infectious virus progeny at late stages of the viral replication cycle. The report provides an intriguing example of how influenza virus exploits cellular structures and regulatory pathways, including intracellular transport mechanisms, to complete its replication cycle and maximize the production of infectious virus progeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus*
  • Animals
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Nuclear Pore / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Pore Complex Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribonucleoproteins / metabolism*
  • Virus Replication*


  • NUP153 protein, human
  • Nuclear Pore Complex Proteins
  • Ribonucleoproteins
  • Caspases