Epstein-Barr virus that lacks glycoprotein gN is impaired in assembly and infection.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) glycoproteins N and M (gN and gM) are encoded by the BLRF1 and BBRF3 genes. To examine the function of the EBV gN-gM complex, recombinant virus was constructed in which the BLRF1 gene was interrupted with a neomycin resistance cassette. Recombinant virus lacked not only gN but also detectable gM. A significant proportion of the recombinant virus capsids remained associated with condensed chromatin in the nucleus of virus-producing cells, and cytoplasmic vesicles containing enveloped virus were scarce. Virus egress was impaired, and sedimentation analysis revealed that the majority of the virus that was released lacked a complete envelope. The small amount of virus that could bind to cells was also impaired in infectivity at a step following fusion. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that the predicted 78-amino-acid cytoplasmic tail of gM, which is highly charged and rich in prolines, interacts with the virion tegument. It is proposed that this interaction is important both for association of capsids with cell membrane to assemble and release enveloped particles and for dissociation of the capsid from the membrane of the newly infected cell on its way to the cell nucleus. The phenotype of EBV lacking the gN-gM complex is more striking than that of most alphaherpesviruses lacking the same complex but resembles in many respects the phenotype of pseudorabies virus lacking glycoproteins gM, gE, and gI. Since EBV does not encode homologs for gE and gI, this suggests that functions that may have some redundancy in alphaherpesviruses have been concentrated in fewer proteins in EBV.