A conserved lysine/arginine-rich motif in potyviral 6K1 protein is key in engaging autophagy-mediated self-degradation for completing pepper veinal mottle virus infection

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Potyviruses possess one positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome mainly with polyprotein processing as their gene expression strategy. The resulting polyproteins are proteolytically processed by three virus-encoded proteases into 11 or 12 mature proteins. One of such, 6-kDa peptide 1 (6K1), is an understudied viral factor. Its function in viral infection remains largely mysterious. This study is to reveal part of its roles by using pepper veinal mottle virus (PVMV) as a model virus. Alanine substitution screening analysis revealed that 15 out of 17 conserved residues across potyviral 6K1 sequences are essential for PVMV infection. However, 6K1 protein is less accumulated in virus-infected cells, even though P3-6K1 junction is efficiently processed by NIa-Pro for its release, indicating that 6K1 undergoes a self-degradation event. Mutating the cleavage site to prevent NIa-Pro processing abolishes viral infection, suggesting that the generation of 6K1 along with its degradation might be important for viral multiplication. We corroborated that cellular autophagy is engaged in 6K1’s degradation. Individual engineering of the 15 6K1 variants into PVMV was performed to allow for their expression along with viral infection. Five of such variants, D30A, V32A, K34A, L36A, and L39A, significantly interfere with viral infection. The five residues are enclosed in a conserved lysine/arginine-rich motif; four of them appear to be crucial in engaging autophagy-mediated self-degradation. Based on these data, we envisaged a scenario that potyviral 6K1s interact with an unknown anti-viral component to be co-degraded by autophagy to promote viral infection.


Potyvirus is the largest genus of plant-infecting RNA viruses, which encompasses socio-economically important virus species, such as Potato virus Y , Plum pox virus , and Soybean mosaic virus . Like all picorna-like viruses, potyviruses express their factors mainly via polyprotein processing. Theoretically, viral factors P3 through CP, including 6K1, should share an equivalent number of molecules. The 6K1 is small in size (∼6 kDa) and conserved across potyviruses, but less accumulated in virus-infected cells. This study demonstrates that cellular autophagy is engaged in the degradation of 6K1 to promote viral infection. In particular, we found a conserved lysine/arginine-rich motif in 6K1s across potyviruses that is engaged in this degradation event. This finding reveals one facet of a small protein that help understand the pro-viral role of cellular autophagy in viral infection.

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