Alpha herpesviruses, such as herpes simplex virus and pseudorabies virus (PRV), are neuroinvasive dsDNA viruses that establish life-long latency in peripheral nervous system (PNS) neurons of their native hosts. Following reactivation, the infection can spread back to the initial mucosal site of infection or, in rare cases, to the central nervous system with usually serious outcomes. During entry and egress, viral capsids depend on microtubule-based molecular motors for efficient and fast transport. In axons of PNS neurons, cytoplasmic dynein provides force for retrograde movements towards the soma, and kinesins move cargo in the opposite, anterograde direction. The dynamic properties of virus particles in cells can be imaged by fluorescent protein fusions to the small capsid protein VP26, which are incorporated into capsids. However, single-color fluorescent protein tags fail to distinguish virus inoculum from progeny. Therefore, we established a dual-color system by growing a recombinant PRV expressing a red fluorescent VP26 fusion (PRV180) on a stable cell line expressing a green VP26 fusion (PK15-mNG-VP26). The resulting dual-color virus preparation (PRV180G) contains capsids tagged with both red and green fluorescent proteins, and 97% of particles contain detectable levels of mNG-VP26. After replication in neuronal cells, all PRV180G progeny exclusively contain mRFP-VP26 tagged capsids. We used PRV180G for an analysis of axonal capsid transport dynamics in PNS neurons. Fast dual-color total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy, single particle tracking and motility analyses reveal robust, bidirectional capsid motility mediated by cytoplasmic dynein and kinesin during entry, whereas egressing progeny particles are exclusively transported by kinesins.
IMPORTANCE: Alpha herpesviruses are neuroinvasive viruses that infect the peripheral nervous system (PNS) of infected hosts as an integral part of their life cycle. Establishment of a quiescent or latent infection in PNS neurons is a hallmark of most alpha herpesviruses. Spread of infection to the central nervous system is surprisingly rare in natural hosts, but can be fatal. Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a broad host range, swine alpha herpesvirus that enters neuronal cells and utilizes intracellular transport processes to establish infection and to spread between cells. By using a virus preparation with fluorescent viral capsids that change color depending on the stage of the infectious cycle, we find that, during entry, axons of PNS neurons support robust, bidirectional capsid motility, similar to cellular cargo, towards the cell body. In contrast, progeny particles appear to be transported unidirectionally by kinesin motors towards distal egress sites.