Bluetongue virus (BTV) is an arthropod-borne virus that infects domestic and wild ruminants. The virion is a non-enveloped double-layered particle with an outer capsid that encloses a core containing the segmented double-stranded RNA genome. Although BTV is canonically released by cell lysis, it also exits non-lytically. In infected cells, the BTV nonstructural glycoprotein 3 (NS3) is found to be associated with host membranes and traffics from the endoplasmic reticulum through the Golgi apparatus to the plasma membrane. This suggests a role for NS3 in BTV particle maturation and non-lytic egress. However, the mechanism by which NS3 coordinates these events has not yet been elucidated. Here, we identified two polybasic motifs (PMB1/PMB2), consistent with the membrane binding. Using site-directed mutagenesis, confocal and electron microscopy, and flow cytometry, we demonstrated that PBM1 and PBM2 mutant viruses retained NS3 either in the Golgi apparatus or in the endoplasmic reticulum, suggesting a distinct role for each motif. Mutation of PBM2 motif decreased NS3 export to the cell surface and virus production. However, both mutant viruses produced predominantly inner core particles that remained close to their site of assembly. Together, our data demonstrates that correct trafficking of the NS3 protein is required for virus maturation and release.
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