Retrograde, transneuronal spread of pseudorabies virus in defined neuronal circuitry of the rat brain is facilitated by gE mutations that reduce virulence

M. Yang, J. P. Card, R. S. Tirabassi, R. R. Miselis, L. W. Enquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The pseudorabies virus (PRV) gE gene encodes a multifunctional membrane protein found in infected cell membranes and in the virion envelope. Deletion of the gE gene results in marked attenuation of the virus in almost every animal species tested that is permissive for PRV. A common inference is that gE mutants are less virulent because they have reduced ability to spread from cell to cell; e.g., gE mutants infect fewer cells and, accordingly, animals live longer. In this report, we demonstrate that this inference does not hold in a rat experimental model for virus invasion of the brain. We find that animals infected with gE mutants live longer despite extensive retrograde, transneuronal spread of virus in the rat brain. In this model of brain infection,: virus is injected into the stomach musculature and virions spread to the brain in long axons of brain stem neurons that give rise to the tenth cranial nerve (the vagus). The infection then spreads from neuron to neuron in well-defined, and physically separated, areas of the brain involved in autonomic regulation of the viscera. We examined the progression of infection of five PRV strains in this circuitry: the wild-type PRV-Becker strain, the attenuated PRV-Bartha vaccine strain, and three gE mutants isogenic with the PRV-Becker strain. By 60 to 67 h after infection, all PRV-Becker-infected animals were dead. Analysis of Becker-infected rats killed prior to virus- induced death demonstrated that the virus had established an infection only in the primary vagal neurons connected directly to the stomach and synaptically linked neurons in the immediate vicinity of the caudal brain stem. There was little spread to other neurons in the vagus circuitry. In contrast, rats infected with PRV-Bartha or PRV-Becker gE mutants survived to at least 96 h and exhibited few overt signs of disease. Despite this long survival and the lack of symptoms, brains of animals sacrificed at this time revealed extensive trans-synaptic infection not only of the brain stem but also of areas of the forebrain synaptically linked to neurons in the brain stem. This finding provides evidence that the gE protein plays a role in promoting symptoms of infection and death in animals that is independent of neuron-to-neuron spread during brain infection. When this early virulence function is not active, animals live longer, resulting in more extensive spread of virus in the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4350-4359
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Insect Science
  • Virology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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