During nuclear egress of nascent progeny herpesvirus nucleocapsids, the nucleocapsids acquire a primary envelope by budding through the inner nuclear membrane of infected cells into the perinuclear space between the inner and outer nuclear membranes. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) UL34 and UL31 proteins form a nuclear egress complex (NEC) and play critical roles in this budding process, designated primary envelopment. To clarify the role of NEC binding to progeny nucleocapsids in HSV-1 primary envelopment, we established an assay system for HSV-1 NEC binding to nucleocapsids and capsid proteins in vitro. Using this assay system, we showed that HSV-1 NEC bound to nucleocapsids and to capsid protein UL25, but not to the other capsid proteins tested (i.e., VP5, VP23 and UL17) and that HSV-1 NEC binding nucleocapsids was mediated by NEC interaction with UL25. UL31 residues arginine-281 (R281) and aspartic acid-282 (D282) were required for efficient NEC binding to nucleocapsids and UL25. We also showed that alanine substitution of UL31 R281 and D282 reduced HSV-1 replication, caused aberrant accumulation of capsids in the nucleus, and induced an accumulation of empty vesicles, that were similar in size and morphology to primary envelopes, in the perinuclear space. These results suggested that NEC binding via UL31 R281 and D282 to nucleocapsids, probably to UL25 in the nucleocapsids, has an important role in HSV-1 replication by promoting the incorporation of nucleocapsids into vesicles during primary envelopment.
Binding of HSV-1 NEC to nucleocapsids has been thought to promote nucleocapsid budding at the inner nuclear membrane and subsequent incorporation of nucleocapsids into vesicles during nuclear egress of nucleocapsids. However, data to directly support this hypothesis has not been reported thus far. In this study, we have presented data showing that two amino acids in the membrane distal face of the HSV-1 NEC, which contains the putative capsid binding site based on the solved NEC structure, were in fact required for efficient NEC binding to nucleocapsids and for efficient incorporation of nucleocapsids into vesicles during primary envelopment. This is the first report showing direct linkage between NEC binding to nucleocapsids and an increase in nucleocapsid incorporation into vesicles during herpesvirus primary envelopment.