Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) ORF3 protein is transported through the exocytic pathway

Si, Fusheng, et al. “Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) ORF3 Protein Is Transported through the Exocytic Pathway.” Journal of Virology, 2020, doi:10.1128/jvi.00808-20.


Accessory genes occurring between the S and E genes of coronaviruses have been studied quite intensively during the last decades. In porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) the only gene at this location, ORF3, encodes a 224-residues membrane protein shown to exhibit ion channel activity and to enhance virus production. However, little is known about its intracellular trafficking nor about its function during PEDV infection. In this study, two recombinant PEDVs were rescued by targeted RNA recombination, one carrying the full-length ORF3 gene and one from which the gene had been deleted entirely. These viruses as well as a PEDV encoding a naturally truncated ORF3 protein were employed to study the ORF3 protein’s subcellular trafficking. In addition, ORF3 expression vectors were constructed to study the protein’s independent transport. Our results show that the ORF3 protein uses the exocytic pathway to move to and accumulate in the Golgi area of the cell, similarly in infected and transfected cells. Like the S protein, but unlike the other structural proteins M and N, the ORF3 protein was additionally observed at the surface of PEDV-infected cells. Also the C-terminally truncated ORF3 protein entered the exocytic pathway but it was unable to leave the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and ER-to-Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC). Consistently, an YxxØ motif essential for ER exit was identified in the C-terminal domain. Finally, despite the use of sensitive antibodies and assays no ORF3 protein could be detected in highly purified PEDV particles, indicating that the protein is not a structural virion component.

IMPORTANCE Coronaviruses typically express several accessory proteins. They vary in number and nature, and only one is conserved among most of the coronaviruses, pointing at an important biological function for this protein. PEDV is peculiar in that it expresses just this one accessory protein, termed the ORF3 protein. While its analogues in other coronaviruses have been studied to different extents – indicating they share an ion channel property – little is still known about the features and functions of the PEDV ORF3 protein except for its association with virulence. Here we studied the intracellular trafficking of the ORF3 protein both in infected cells and when expressed independently. In addition, we analyzed the effects of mutations in five sorting motifs in its C-terminal domain and investigated whether the protein, found to follow the same exocytic route by which the viral structural membrane proteins travel, is also incorporated into virions.