A chimeric virus-mouse model system for evaluating the function and inhibition of papain-like proteases of emerging coronaviruses

Xufang Deng, Sudhakar Agnihothram, Anna M. Mielech, Daniel B. Nichols, Michael W. Wilson, Sarah E. St. John, Scott D. Larsen, Andrew D. Mesecar, Deborah J. Lenschow, Ralph S. Baric, Susan C. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


To combat emerging coronaviruses, developing safe and efficient platforms to evaluate viral protease activities and the efficacy of protease inhibitors is a high priority. Here, we exploit a biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) chimeric Sindbis virus system to evaluate protease activities and the efficacy of inhibitors directed against the papain-like protease (PLpro) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) pathogen. We engineered Sindbis virus to coexpress PLpro and a substrate, murine interferon-stimulated gene 15 (ISG15), and found that PLpro mediates removal of ISG15 (deISGylation) from cellular proteins. Mutation of the catalytic cysteine residue of PLpro or addition of a PLpro inhibitor blocked deISGylation in virus-infected cells. Thus, deISGylation is a marker of PLpro activity. Infection of alpha/beta interferon receptor knockout (IFNAR-/-) mice with these chimeric viruses revealed that PLpro deISGylation activity removed ISG15-mediated protection during viral infection. Importantly, administration of a PLpro inhibitor protected these mice from lethal infection, demonstrating the efficacy of a coronavirus protease inhibitor in a mouse model. However, this PLpro inhibitor was not sufficient to protect the mice from lethal infection with SARS-CoV MA15, suggesting that further optimization of the delivery and stability of PLpro inhibitors is needed. We extended the chimeric-virus platform to evaluate the papain-like protease/deISGylating activity of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to provide a small-animal model to evaluate PLpro inhibitors of this recently emerged pathogen. This platform has the potential to be universally adaptable to other viral and cellular enzymes that have deISGylating activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11825-11833
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'A chimeric virus-mouse model system for evaluating the function and inhibition of papain-like proteases of emerging coronaviruses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this