African horse sickness virus (AHSV) affects equine populations around the world. It is the cause of a high rate of morbidity and associated large economic losses in affected regions. The virus is a segmented double stranded RNA virus and a member of Orbivirus genus in the Reoviridae family. The prototype member of the orbiviruses is bluetongue virus (STY) and other members include Chuzan virus and St. Croix River virus. These viruses are all characterized by a genome of ten dsRNA segments that encode at least ten different proteins. Three of the minor core proteins are found within the core of BTV. These are all associated with the RNA transcription complex and the enzymatic activities with which they are associated include an RNA polymerase (VP1), an RNA capping enzyme (VP4) and an RNA helicase (VP6). Genes homologous to the BTV genes that encode these proteins are found in all members of the Orbivirus genus. The aim of this thesis is to characterize VP4 of AHSV, the capping enzyme candidate, and to compare it to other orbivirus capping enzymes. Possible functional motifs and regions of importance within the orbivirus capping enzymes will be identified. The gene will also be expressed and used to perform assays to characterize the different enzymatic activities of VP4. The VP4 cDNA of AHSV serotype 3 was cloned and sequenced. From the full-length verified nucleotide sequence an open reading frame was identified and used to predict the amino acid sequence. These were compared to other orbivirus species including STY, Chuzan virus and St. Croix River virus. These alignments identified a number of highly conserved regions, consisting of four or more amino acids conserved between all the sequences analyzed. A fibronectin type 3-like motif, containing 12 conserved amino acids, was identified which could be responsible for protein binding. This motif contains 12 conserved amino acids making it a good candidate for a functional motif. Conservation does not, however, always predict regions of importance. In BTV a lysine-containing motif was identified to be responsible for GMP binding. This region is not conserved between the different viruses. AHSV has a motif containing a lysine residue similar to the motif identified in rotavirus and reovirus. Two other motifs described in BTV were also not conserved in the other viruses. One of them, a leucine zipper, was shown to dimerize BTV VP4. Phylogenetically, AHSV and Chuzan virus are the most closely related while BTV is more distant and St. Croix River virus forms a distinct out-group when the different VP4 sequences are compared. AHSV-3 VP4 was expressed as a histidine-tagged protein in the baculovirus expression system. Not unexpectedly, the protein was found to be insoluble, similar to BTV VP4 produced by means of the same system. However, whereas BTV VP4 could be solubilized by the addition of salt the AHSV VP4 remained insoluble at high salt concentrations. Several adjustments were made. Cells were lysed in a high salt buffer, the pH of the buffers was adjusted and sucrose cushions were used but none of the methods was found to improve the yield of soluble VP4 significantly. However, the pellet containing VP4 was relatively empty of contaminating protein and, therefore, a number of enzymatic assays were performed with the pellet. Assays for inorganic phosphatase and nucleotide phosphatase were performed. Strikingly, both assays indicated the presence of active phosphatases in the WT and VP4 pellets. Also, an assay was performed for guanylyltransferase activity but no activity was observed for this assay. The sequence data therefore points to VP4 as the probable capping enzyme although it may have a different structural complex. The failure to produce a reliable source of soluble purified AHSV VP4 made it impossible to provide evidence to confirm the associated enzymatic activities.
Dissertation (MSc(Genetics))--University of Pretoria, 2005.