Pseudorabies virus (PRV), an alphaherpesvirus with a broad host range, replicates and spreads in chains of synaptically connected neurons. The PRV protein Us9 is a small membrane protein that is highly conserved among alphaherpesviruses and is essential for anterograde axonal spread in neurons. Specifically, the Us9 protein is required for the sorting of newly assembled PRV particles into axons. However, the molecular details underlying the function of Us9 are poorly understood. Here we constructed PRV strains that express functional green fluorescent protein (GFP)-Us9 fusion proteins in order to visualize axonal transport of viral particles in infected rat superior cervical ganglion neurons. We show that GFP-Us9-labeled structures are transported exclusively in the anterograde direction within axons. Additionally, the vast majority of anterograde-directed capsids (labeled with VP26-monomeric red fluorescent protein) and a viral membrane protein (labeled with glycoprotein M fused to mCherry) are cotransported with GFP-Us9 in the anterograde direction. In contrast, during infection with PRV strains that express nonfunctional mutant GFP-Us9 proteins, cotransport of mutant GFP-Us9 with capsids in axons is abolished. These findings show that axonal sorting of progeny viral particles is dependent upon the association of viral structures with membranes that contain functional Us9 proteins. This association is required for anterograde spread of infection in neurons.
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