The Journal of general virology

Proteolytic processing, deubiquitinase and interferon antagonist activities of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus papain-like protease.

PMID 24362959


The emerging Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causes severe pulmonary disease in humans and represents the second example of a highly pathogenic coronavirus (CoV) following severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Genomic studies revealed that two viral proteases, papain-like protease (PLpro) and 3C-like protease (3CLpro), process the polyproteins encoded by the MERS-CoV genomic RNA. We previously reported that SARS-CoV PLpro acts as both deubiquitinase (DUB) and IFN antagonist, but the function of the MERS-CoV PLpro was poorly understood. In this study, we characterized MERS-CoV PLpro, which is a protease and can recognize and process the cleavage sites (CS) of nsp1-2, nsp2-3 and nsp3-4. The LXGG consensus cleavage sites in the N terminus of pp1a/1ab, which is generally essential for CoV PLpro-mediated processing, were also characterized in MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV PLpro, like human SARS-CoV PLpro and NL63-CoV PLP2, is a viral deubiquitinating enzyme. It acts on both K48- and K63-linked ubiquitination and ISG15-linked ISGylation. We confirmed that MERS-CoV PLpro acts as an IFN antagonist through blocking the phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of IFN regulatory factor 3 (IRF3). These findings indicate that MERS-CoV PLpro acts as a viral DUB and suppresses production of IFN-β by an interfering IRF3-mediated signalling pathway, in addition to recognizing and processing the CS at the N terminus of replicase polyprotein to release the non-structural proteins. The characterization of proteolytic processing, DUB and IFN antagonist activities of MERS-CoV PLpro would reveal the interactions between MERS-CoV and its host, and be applicable to develop strategies targeting PLpro for the effective control of MERS-CoV infection.