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The acetyl-esterase activity of the hemagglutinin-esterase protein of human coronavirus OC43 strongly enhances the production of infectious virus.

Abstract : Most betacoronaviruses possess an hemagglutinin-esterase (HE) protein, which appears to play a role in binding to or release from the target cell. Since this HE protein possesses an acetyl-esterase activity that removes acetyl groups from O-acetylated sialic acid, a role as a receptor-destroying enzyme has been postulated. However, the precise function of HE and of its enzymatic activity remains poorly understood. Making use of neutralizing antibody and of molecular clones of recombinant human coronavirus OC43 (HCoV-OC43), our results suggest that the HE protein of this HCoV could be associated with infection of target cells and, most notably, is important in the production of infectious viral particles. Indeed, after transfecting BHK-21 cells with various cDNA infectious clones of HCoV-OC43, either lacking the HE protein or bearing an HE protein with a nonfunctional acetyl-esterase enzymatic activity, we were reproducibly unable to detect recombinant infectious viruses compared to the reference infectious HCoV-OC43 clone pBAC-OC43(FL). Complementation experiments, using BHK-21 cells expressing wild-type HE, either transiently or in a stable ectopic expression, demonstrate that this protein plays a very significant role in the production of infectious recombinant coronaviral particles that can subsequently more efficiently infect susceptible epithelial and neuronal cells. Even though the S protein is the main viral factor influencing coronavirus infection of susceptible cells, our results taken together indicate that a functionally active HE protein enhances the infectious properties of HCoV-OC43 and contributes to efficient virus dissemination in cell culture.
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Marc Desforges, Jessica Desjardins, Chengsheng Zhang, Pierre J Talbot. The acetyl-esterase activity of the hemagglutinin-esterase protein of human coronavirus OC43 strongly enhances the production of infectious virus.. Journal of Virology, American Society for Microbiology, 2013, 87 (6), pp.3097-107. ⟨10.1128/JVI.02699-12⟩. ⟨pasteur-01130863⟩

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