Rotavirus (RV) viroplasms are cytosolic inclusions where both virus genome replication and primary steps of virus progeny assembly take place. A stabilized microtubule cytoskeleton and lipid droplets are required for the viroplasm formation, which involves several virus proteins. The viral spike protein VP4 has not previously been shown to have a direct role in viroplasm formation. However, it is involved with virus-cell attachment, endocytic internalization, and virion morphogenesis. Moreover, VP4 interacts with actin cytoskeleton components, mainly in processes involving virus entrance and egress, and thereby may have an indirect role in viroplasm formation. In this study, we used reverse genetics to construct a recombinant RV, rRV/VP4-BAP, that contains a biotin acceptor peptide (BAP) in the K145-G150 loop of the VP4 lectin domain, permitting live monitoring. The recombinant virus was replication competent but showed a reduced fitness. We demonstrate that rRV/VP4-BAP infection, as opposed to rRV/wt infection, did not lead to a reorganized actin cytoskeleton as viroplasms formed were insensitive to drugs that depolymerize actin and inhibit myosin. Moreover, wild-type (wt) VP4, but not VP4-BAP, appeared to associate with actin filaments. Similarly, VP4 in coexpression with NSP5 and NSP2 induced a significant increase in the number of viroplasm-like structures. Interestingly, a small peptide mimicking loop K145-G150 rescued the phenotype of rRV/VP4-BAP by increasing its ability to form viroplasms and hence improve virus progeny formation. Collectively, these results provide a direct link between VP4 and the actin cytoskeleton to catalyze viroplasm assembly. IMPORTANCE The spike protein VP4 participates in diverse steps of the rotavirus (RV) life cycle, including virus-cell attachment, internalization, modulation of endocytosis, virion morphogenesis, and virus egress. Using reverse genetics, we constructed for the first time a recombinant RV, rRV/VP4-BAP, harboring a heterologous peptide in the lectin domain (loop K145-G150) of VP4. The rRV/VP4-BAP was replication competent but with reduced fitness due to a defect in the ability to reorganize the actin cytoskeleton, which affected the efficiency of viroplasm assembly. This defect was rescued by adding a permeable small-peptide mimicking the wild-type VP4 loop K145-G150. In addition to revealing a new role of VP4, our findings suggest that rRV harboring an engineered VP4 could be used as a new dual vaccination platform providing immunity against RV and additional heterologous antigens.
Keywords: VP4; actin; reverse genetic analysis; reverse-genetics; rotavirus; spike; spike protein; viroplasm.