PloS one

Comparative analysis of seven viral nuclear export signals (NESs) reveals the crucial role of nuclear export mediated by the third NES consensus sequence of nucleoprotein (NP) in influenza A virus replication.

PMID 25119991


The assembly of influenza virus progeny virions requires machinery that exports viral genomic ribonucleoproteins from the cell nucleus. Currently, seven nuclear export signal (NES) consensus sequences have been identified in different viral proteins, including NS1, NS2, M1, and NP. The present study examined the roles of viral NES consensus sequences and their significance in terms of viral replication and nuclear export. Mutation of the NP-NES3 consensus sequence resulted in a failure to rescue viruses using a reverse genetics approach, whereas mutation of the NS2-NES1 and NS2-NES2 sequences led to a strong reduction in viral replication kinetics compared with the wild-type sequence. While the viral replication kinetics for other NES mutant viruses were also lower than those of the wild-type, the difference was not so marked. Immunofluorescence analysis after transient expression of NP-NES3, NS2-NES1, or NS2-NES2 proteins in host cells showed that they accumulated in the cell nucleus. These results suggest that the NP-NES3 consensus sequence is mostly required for viral replication. Therefore, each of the hydrophobic (Φ) residues within this NES consensus sequence (Φ1, Φ2, Φ3, or Φ4) was mutated, and its viral replication and nuclear export function were analyzed. No viruses harboring NP-NES3 Φ2 or Φ3 mutants could be rescued. Consistent with this, the NP-NES3 Φ2 and Φ3 mutants showed reduced binding affinity with CRM1 in a pull-down assay, and both accumulated in the cell nucleus. Indeed, a nuclear export assay revealed that these mutant proteins showed lower nuclear export activity than the wild-type protein. Moreover, the Φ2 and Φ3 residues (along with other Φ residues) within the NP-NES3 consensus were highly conserved among different influenza A viruses, including human, avian, and swine. Taken together, these results suggest that the Φ2 and Φ3 residues within the NP-NES3 protein are important for its nuclear export function during viral replication.