Production of cytokines in human whole blood after incubation with the nucleocapsid protein of the NL63 Coronavirus
The Coronaviridae family consists of RNA viruses within the order Nidovirales. The family is classified into two genera, namely the corona- and toroviruses. Coronaviruses are enveloped, single stranded, positive sense RNA viruses with genomes ranging between 27-32kb in size. The 5’ two-thirds of the genome encodes for the 1a/b polyprotein, while the 3’ one-third of the genome encodes for the structural proteins that mediate viral entry into the host cell. These structural proteins include the spike (S), envelope (E), membrane (M) and nucleocapsid (N) proteins. The nucleocapsid protein is expressed at high levels within an infected cell. Studies have shown that this protein plays a key regulatory role in different cellular pathways, including the inhibition of interferon production and the up-regulation of the AP1 signal transduction pathway, amongst others. Also, the N protein is vital in the formation of the ribonucleocapsid core by binding to the viral RNA during virion assembly. The focus of this study is the immune response in whole blood cultures to the presence of human coronavirus (HCoV) NL63 N protein. To characterise the stimulation of the immune activity against HCoV-NL63 N in blood cultures, the HCoV-NL63 N gene was expressed in a bacterial system. In this pilot study, GSTtagged N constructs were then purified and used to treat whole blood cultures from three volunteers. ELISAs were used to measure the cytokine response in these treated whole blood cultures. Results showed that the nucleocapsid protein has an inflammatory response on whole blood cultures. These results have generated vital information in the potential function of the HCoV-NL63 N protein on the immune system. It is suffice to say that the HCoV-NL63 N protein is able to elicit an effective inflammatory response within the host cell. Future studies into the cellular pathways affected by the HCoV-NL63 N protein will clarify its exact role in stimulating the host immune system.