PloS one

A modified screening system for loss-of-function and dominant negative alleles of essential MCMV genes.

PMID 24733555


Inactivation of gene products by dominant negative mutants is a valuable tool to assign functions to yet uncharacterized proteins, to map protein-protein interactions or to dissect physiological pathways. Detailed functional and structural knowledge about the target protein would allow the construction of inhibitory mutants by targeted mutagenesis. Yet, such data are limited for the majority of viral proteins, so that the target gene needs to be subjected to random mutagenesis to identify suitable mutants. However, for cytomegaloviruses this requires a two-step screening approach, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Here, we report the establishment of a high-throughput suitable screening system for the identification of inhibitory alleles of essential genes of the murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). In this screen, the site-specific recombination of a specifically modified MCMV genome was transferred from the bacterial background to permissive host cells, thereby combining the genetic engineering and the rescue test in one step. Using a reference set of characterized pM53 mutants it was shown that the novel system is applicable to identify non-complementing as well as inhibitory mutants in a high-throughput suitable setup. The new cis-complementation assay was also applied to a basic genetic characterization of pM99, which was identified as essential for MCMV growth. We believe that the here described novel genetic screening approach can be adapted for the genetic characterization of essential genes of any large DNA viruses.