Characterization of the Lassa virus matrix protein Z: electron microscopic study of virus-like particles and interaction with the nucleoprotein (NP)

Virus Research
Robert EichlerOliver Lenz

Abstract

Lassa virus is the causative agent of a hemorrhagic fever endemic in west Africa. The RNA genome of Lassa virus encodes the glycoprotein precursor GP-C, a nucleoprotein (NP), the viral polymerase L and a small protein Z (11 kDa). Here, we analyze the role of Z protein for virus maturation. We have recently shown that expression of Z protein in the absence of other viral proteins is sufficient for the release of enveloped Z-containing particles. In this study, we examined particles secreted into the supernatant of a stably Z protein-expressing CHO cell line by electron microscopy. The observed Z-induced virus-like particles did not significantly differ in their morphology and size from Lassa virus particles. Mutation of two proline-rich domains within Z which are known to drastically reduce the release of virus-like particles, had no effect on the cellular localization of the protein nor on its membrane-association. Furthermore, we present evidence that Z interacts with the NP. We assume that Z recruits NP to cellular membranes where virus assembly takes place. We conclude from our data that Lassa virus Z protein plays an essential role in Lassa virus maturation.

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