Journal of virology

Identification and characterization of nuclear and nucleolar localization signals in the adeno-associated virus serotype 2 assembly-activating protein.

PMID 25552709


Assembly-activating protein (AAP) of adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (AAV2) is a nucleolar-localizing protein that plays a critical role in transporting the viral capsid VP3 protein to the nucleolus for assembly. Here, we identify and characterize AAV2 AAP (AAP2) nuclear (NLS) and nucleolar (NoLS) localization signals near the carboxy-terminal region of AAP2 (amino acid positions 144 to 184) (AAP2(144-184)). This region contains five basic-amino-acid-rich (BR) clusters, KSKRSRR (AAP2BR1), RRR (AAP2BR2), RFR (AAP2BR3), RSTSSR (AAP2BR4), and RRIK (AAP2BR5), from the amino terminus to the carboxy terminus. We created 30 AAP2BR mutants by arginine/lysine-to-alanine mutagenesis or deletion of AAP2BRs and 8 and 1 green fluorescent protein (GFP)-AAP2BR and β-galactosidase-AAP2BR fusion proteins, respectively, and analyzed their intracellular localization in HeLa cells by immunofluorescence microscopy. The results showed that AAP2(144-184) has redundant multipartite NLSs and that any combinations of 4 AAP2BRs, but not 3 or less, can constitute a functional NLS-NoLS; AAP2BR1 and AAP2BR2 play the most influential role for nuclear localization, but either one of the two AAP2BRs is dispensable if all 4 of the other AAP2BRs are present, resulting in 3 different, overlapping NLS motifs; and the NoLS is shared redundantly among the five AAP2BRs and functions in a context-dependent manner. AAP2BR mutations not only resulted in aberrant intracellular localization, but also attenuated AAP2 protein expression to various degrees, and both of these abnormalities have a significant negative impact on capsid production. Thus, this study reveals the organization of the intermingling NLSs and NoLSs in AAP2 and provides insights into their functional roles in capsid assembly. Adeno-associated virus (AAV) has become a popular and successful vector for in vivo gene therapy; however, its biology has yet to be fully understood. In this regard, the recent discovery of the assembly-activating protein (AAP), a nonstructural, nucleolar-localizing AAV protein essential for viral capsid assembly, has provided us a new opportunity to better understand the fundamental processes required for virion formation. Here, we identify clusters of basic amino acids in the carboxy terminus of AAP from AAV serotype 2 (AAV2) that act as nuclear and nucleolar localization signals. We also demonstrate their importance in maintaining AAP expression levels and efficient production of viral capsids. Insights into the functions of AAP can elucidate the requirements and process for AAV capsid assembly, which may lead to improved vector production for use in gene therapy. This study also contributes to the growing body of work on nuclear and nucleolar localization signals.