Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Jason Botten

Second Advisor

Bryan A. Ballif


Viruses are infectious agents that must infect the cells of living organisms in order to reproduce. They have relatively simple genomes which encode few proteins but can compensate for their simplicity by hijacking components of their cellular hosts. Arenaviruses, a family of zoonotic viruses carried by rodents, encode only 4 proteins. One of these proteins, Z, is responsible for several functions during the virus life cycle including driving the formation and release of new virus particles at the plasma membrane of infected cells. Relatively little is known about how this viral protein is regulated or the complement of host proteins it engages in order to produce new virus particles or augment Z's other functions. To address this gap in knowledge, mass spectrometry was used to identify phosphorylation sites in the Old World arenavirus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) Z protein. Phosphorylation sites were identified at serine 41 (S41) and tyrosine 88 (Y88). Functional studies using recombinant (r)LCMV containing mutations at these phosphorylation sites revealed that both were important for the production of defective interfering (DI) particles. DI particles are replication-incompetent virus particles that interfere with the production of infectious virus and mitigate its cytopathic effect. While a mutation that mimics phosphorylation at S41 reduced LCMV's ability to produce both infectious and DI particles, this mutation had a much stronger impact on DI particles. Production of DI particles in Y88-mutant rLCMV was drastically reduced while the impact on infectious virus was minimal. Y88 lies within a type of viral late domain (PPXY) also found in matrix proteins of several disparate virus families where it has been shown to drive infectious virus release by recruiting the membrane scission machinery of the cellular endosomal sorting complex required for transport (ESCRT). Inhibition of the ESCRT pathway drastically reduced LCMV DI particle but not infectious virus release indicating that Z's PPXY late domain and the cellular ESCRT complex are required specifically for the production of DI particles. Mass spectrometry was also used to identify host protein partners of Z as well as the host proteins recruited into virus particles for the New World arenavirus, Junin (JUNV). ESCRT complex proteins were enriched in JUNV virus-like particles (VLPs) and bona fide virions. In contrast to LCMV, inhibition of the ESCRT complex resulted in significantly less infectious JUNV release. This indicates that the ultimate role of ESCRT engagement by the Old World arenavirus, LCMV, differs from that of New World, JUNV. This work represents the first demonstration that a viral protein motif and the host machinery it engages selectively drive DI particle production independently of infectious virus. It also suggests that host cell kinases can dynamically regulate the production of DI particles through phosphorylation of Z. Finally, the late domain-mutant rLCMV generated in these studies represents the first LCMV strain known to produce undetectable levels of DI particles which provides the opportunity to assess the impact that a loss of DI particles has on the ability of LCMV to establish or maintain a persistent infection.



Number of Pages

266 p.