Generation of Reporter-Expressing New World Arenaviruses: A Systematic Comparison
Replication-competent reporter-expressing viruses are crucial tools in molecular virology with applications that range from antiviral screening to live-cell imaging of protein spatiotemporal dynamics. However, there is currently little information available regarding viable strategies to develop reporter-expressing arenaviruses. To address this, we used Tacaribe virus (TCRV), an apathogenic BSL2 arenavirus, to assess the feasibility of different reporter expression approaches. We first generated trisegmented TCRV viruses with either the glycoprotein (GP) or nucleoprotein (NP) replaced by a reporter (GFP, mCherry, or nanoluciferase). These viruses were all viable, but showed marked differences in brightness and attenuation. Next, we generated terminal fusions with each of the TCRV proteins (i.e., NP, GP, polymerase (L), matrix protein (Z)) either with or without a T2A self-cleavage site. We tested both the function of the reporter-fused proteins alone, and the viability of corresponding recombinant TCRVs. We successfully rescued viruses with both direct and cleavable reporter fusions at the C-terminus of Z, as well as cleavable N-terminal fusions with NP. These viruses all displayed detectable reporter activity, but were also moderately attenuated. Finally, reporter proteins were inserted into a flexible hinge region within L. These viruses were also viable and showed moderate attenuation; however, reporter expression was only detectable for the luminescent virus. These strategies provide an exciting range of new tools for research into the molecular biology of TCRV that can likely also be adapted to other arenaviruses.