Zaghloul, Federici, Arensburger, Hice
Ascoviruses are ds DNA viruses that attack caterpillars and differ from all other viruses by inducing nuclear lysis followed by cleavage of host cells into numerous anucleate vesicles in which virus replication continues as these grow in the blood. Ascoviruses are also unusual in that most encode apoptosis inhibitors and caspase or caspase-like proteins. A robust cell line to study the novel molecular biology of ascovirus replication in vitro is lacking. Therefore, we used strand-specific RNA-Seq to study transcription in vivo in third instars of Spodoptera frugiperda infected with the Spodoptera frugiperda ascovirus, a member of the type species, Spodoptera frugiperda ascovirus (SfAV-1a), sampling transcripts at different time points after infection. We targeted transcription of two types of SfAV-1a genes; first, 44 core genes that occur in several ascovirus species, and second, 26 genes predicted in silico to have metabolic functions likely involved in synthesizing viral vesicle membranes. Gene cluster analysis showed differences in temporal expression of SfAV-1a genes, enabling their assignment to three temporal classes; early, late and very late. Inhibitors of apoptosis (IAP-like proteins; ORF016, ORF025 and ORF074) were expressed early, whereas its caspase (ORF073) was expressed very late, which correlated with apoptotic events leading to viral vesicle formation. Expression analysis revealed that a Diedel gene homolog (ORF121), the only known "virokine," was highly expressed, implying this ascovirus protein helps evade innate host immunity. Lastly, single-nucleotide resolution of RNA-Seq data revealed 15 bicistronic and tricistronic messages along the genome, an unusual occurrence for large ds DNA viruses.IMPORTANCE Unlike all other DNA viruses, ascoviruses code for an executioner caspase, apparently involved in a novel cytopathology in which viral replication induces nuclear lysis followed by cell cleavage yielding numerous large anucleate viral vesicles that continue to produce virions. Our transcriptome analysis of genome expression in vivo by the Spodoptera frugiperda ascovirus shows that inhibitors of apoptosis are expressed first enabling viral replication to proceed, after which the SfAV-1a caspase is synthesized, leading to viral vesicle synthesis and subsequent extensive production of progeny virions. Moreover, we detected numerous bicistronic and tricistronic mRNA messages in the ascovirus transcriptome, implying ascoviruses use other non-canonical translational mechanisms such as Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES). These results provide the first insights into the molecular biology of a unique coordinated gene expression pattern in which cell architecture is markedly modified, more than in any other known eukaryotic virus, to promote viral reproduction and transmission.