Journal of virology

Duplication of the A17L locus of vaccinia virus provides an alternate route to rifampin resistance.

PMID 25078687


Specific gene duplications can enable double-stranded DNA viruses to adapt rapidly to environmental pressures despite the low mutation rate of their high-fidelity DNA polymerases. We report on the rapid positive selection of a novel vaccinia virus genomic duplication mutant in the presence of the assembly inhibitor rifampin. Until now, all known rifampin-resistant vaccinia virus isolates have contained missense mutations in the D13L gene, which encodes a capsid-like scaffold protein required for stabilizing membrane curvature during the early stage of virion assembly. Here we describe a second pathway to rifampin resistance involving A17, a membrane protein that binds and anchors D13 to the immature virion. After one round of selection, a rifampin-resistant virus that contained a genomic duplication in the A17L-A21L region was recovered. The mutant had both C-terminally truncated and full-length A17L open reading frames. Expression of the truncated A17 protein was retained when the virus was passaged in the presence of rifampin but was lost in the absence of the drug, suggesting that the duplication decreased general fitness. Both forms of A17 were bound to the virion membrane and associated with D13. Moreover, insertion of an additional truncated or inducible full-length A17L open reading frame into the genome of the wild-type virus was sufficient to confer rifampin resistance. In summary, this report contains the first evidence of an alternate mechanism for resistance of poxviruses to rifampin, indicates a direct relationship between A17 levels and the resistance phenotype, and provides further evidence of the ability of double-stranded DNA viruses to acquire drug resistance through gene duplication. The present study provides the first evidence of a new mechanism of resistance of a poxvirus to the antiviral drug rifampin. In addition, it affirms the importance of the interaction between the D13 scaffold protein and the A17 membrane protein for assembly of virus particles. Resistance to rifampin was linked to a partial duplication of the gene encoding the A17 protein, similar to the resistance to hydroxyurea enabled by duplication of the gene encoding the small subunit of ribonucleotide reductase and of the K3L gene to allow adaptation to the antiviral action of protein kinase R. Gene duplication may provide a way for poxviruses and other DNA viruses with high-fidelity DNA polymerases to adjust rapidly to changes in the environment.