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Investigations into the vaccinia virus immunomodulatory proteins C4 and C16

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Scutts, Simon Robert 


Vaccinia virus (VACV) is the most intensively studied orthopoxvirus and acts as an excellent model to investigate host-pathogen interactions. VACV encodes about 200 proteins, many of which modulate the immune response. This study focusses on two of these: C16 and C4, that share 43.7 % amino acid identity. Given the sequence similarity, we explored whether C16 and C4 have any shared functions, whilst also searching for novel functions. To gain mechanistic insight, we sought to identify binding partners and determine the residues responsible.

C16 has two reported functions. Firstly, it inhibits DNA-PK-mediated DNA sensing, and this study found that C4 can perform this function as well. Like C16, C4 associates with the Ku heterodimer to block its binding to DNA leading to reduced production of cytokines and chemokines. For both proteins, the function localised to the C termini and was abrogated by mutating three residues. Secondly, C16 induces a hypoxic response by binding to PHD2. This function was mapped to the N-terminal 156 residues and a full length C16 mutant (D70K,D82K) lost the ability to induce a hypoxic response. In contrast, C4 did not bind PHD2.

C4 inhibits NF-κB signalling by an unknown mechanism. Reporter gene assays showed that C16 also suppresses NF-κB activity and, intriguingly, this was carried out by both the N and C termini. C16 acts at or downstream of p65 and the N terminus of C16 associated with p65 independently of PHD2-binding. Conversely, C4 acted upstream of p65, did not display an interaction with p65, and the function was restricted to its C-terminal region.

Novel binding partners were identified by a screen utilising tandem mass tagging and mass spectrometry, and selected hits were validated. The C terminus of C16 associated with VACV protein K1, a known NF-κB inhibitor. Additionally, C16 bound to the transcriptional regulator ARID4B. C4 did not interact with these proteins, but the N-terminal region of C4 associated with filamins A and B. The functional consequences of these interactions remain to be determined.

In vivo, C4 and C16 share some redundancy in that a double deletion virus exhibits an attenuated virulence phenotype that is not observed by single deletion viruses in the intradermal model of infection. However, non-redundant functions also contribute to virulence in that both single deletion viruses display attenuated virulence compared to a wild-type Western Reserve virus in the intranasal model of infection. Data presented also reveal that C4 inhibits the recruitment of immune cells to the site of infection, as was previously described for C16.

Overall, this investigation highlights the complexity of host-pathogen interactions showing that VACV encodes two multifunctional proteins with both shared and unique functions. Moreover, their inhibition of DNA-PK emphasises the importance of this PRR as a DNA sensor in vivo.





Smith, Geoffrey L.


Vaccinia, virus, VACV, viral, immunomodulator, innate, immunology, immune, system, C4, C16, DNA-PK, orthopoxvirus, DNA sensing, Ku, hypoxic, PHD2, NF-κB, PRR, pattern recognition receptor


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Student stipend funded by Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge Research funded by Wellcome trust