An ESCRT/VPS4 Envelopment Trap to Examine the Mechanism of Alphaherpesvirus Assembly and Transport in Neurons

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The assembly and egress of alphaherpesviruses, including herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and pseudorabies virus (PRV), within neurons is poorly understood. A key unresolved question is the structure of the viral particle that moves by anterograde transport along the axon, and two alternative mechanisms have been described. In the “married” model, capsids acquire their envelopes in the cell body and then traffic along axons as enveloped virions within a bounding organelle. In the “separate” model, nonenveloped capsids travel from the cell body into and along the axon, eventually encountering their envelopment organelles at a distal site, such as the nerve cell terminal. Here, we describe an “envelopment trap” to test these models using the dominant negative terminal endosomal sorting complex required for transport (ESCRT) component VPS4-EQ. Green fluorescent protein (GFP)tagged VPS4-EQ was used to arrest HSV-1 or PRV capsid envelopment, inhibit downstream trafficking, and GFP-label envelopment intermediates. We found that GFPVPS4-EQ inhibited trafficking of HSV-1 capsids into and along the neurites and axons of mouse CAD cells and rat embryonic primary cortical neurons, consistent with egress via the married pathway. In contrast, transport of HSV-1 capsids was unaffected in the neurites of human SK-N-SH neuroblastoma cells, consistent with the separate mechanism. Unexpectedly, PRV (generally thought to utilize the married pathway) also appeared to employ the separate mechanism in SK-N-SH cells. We propose that apparent differences in the methods of HSV-1 and PRV egress are more likely a reflection of the host neuron in which transport is studied rather than true biological differences between the viruses themselves. IMPORTANCE Alphaherpesviruses, including herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and pseudorabies virus (PRV), are pathogens of the nervous system. They replicate in the nerve cell body and then travel great distances along axons to reach nerve termini and spread to adjacent epithelial cells; however, key aspects of how these viruses travel along axons remain controversial. Here, we test two alternative mechanisms for transport, the married and separate models, by blocking envelope assembly, a critical step in viral egress. When we arrest formation of the viral envelope using a mutated component of the cellular ESCRT apparatus, we find that entry of viral particles into axons is blocked in some types of neurons but not others. This approach allows us to determine whether envelope assembly occurs prior to entry of viruses into axons or afterwards and, thus, to distinguish between the alternative models for viral transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02178-21
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • HSV-1
  • PRV
  • anterograde transport
  • envelopment
  • neuronal egress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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