Alphaviruses replicate in vertebrate and arthropod cells and utilize a cellular enzyme called furin to process the PE2 glycoprotein precursor during virus replication in both cell types. Furin cleaves PE2 at a site immediately following a highly conserved four residue cleavage signal. Prior studies demonstrated that the amino acid immediately adjacent to the cleavage site influenced PE2 cleavage differently in vertebrate and mosquito cells (HW Heidner et al. 1996. Journal of Virology 70: 2069–2073.). This finding was tentatively attributed to potential differences in the substrate specificities of the vertebrate and arthropod furin enzymes or to differences in the carbohydrate processing phenotypes of arthropod and vertebrate cells. To further address this issue, we evaluated Sindbis virus replication and PE2 cleavage in the Chinese hamster, Cricetulus griseus Milne-Edwards (Rodentia: Cricetidae) ovary cells (CHO-K1) and in a CHO-K1-derived furin-negative cell line (RPE.40) engineered to stably express the Dfurin1 enzyme of Drosophila melanogaster Meigen (Diptera: Drosophilidae). Expression of Dfurin1 enhanced Sindbis virus titers in RPE.40 cells by a factor of 102 – 103, and this increase correlated with efficient cleavage of PE2. The PE2-cleavage phenotypes of viruses containing different amino acid substitutions adjacent to the furin cleavage site were compared in mosquito (C6/36), CHO-K1, and Dfurin1-expressing RPE.40 cells. This analysis confirmed that the substrate specificities of Dfurin1 and the putative mosquito furin homolog present in C6/36 cells are similar and suggested that the alternative PE2 cleavage phenotypes observed in vertebrate and arthropod cells were due to differences in substrate specificity between the arthropod and vertebrate furin enzymes and not to differences in host cell glycoprotein processing pathways.
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