Rodent-to-human transmission of hantaviruses is associated with severe disease. Currently, no FDA-approved, specific antivirals or vaccines are available, and the requirement for high biocontainment (biosafety level 3 [BSL-3]) laboratories limits hantavirus research. To study hantavirus entry in a BSL-2 laboratory, we set out to generate replication-competent, recombinant vesicular stomatitis viruses (rVSVs) bearing the Gn and Gc (Gn/Gc) entry glycoproteins. As previously reported, rVSVs bearing New World hantavirus Gn/Gc were readily rescued from cDNAs, but their counterparts bearing Gn/Gc from the Old World hantaviruses, Hantaan virus (HTNV) or Dobrava-Belgrade virus (DOBV), were refractory to rescue. However, serial passage of the rescued rVSV-HTNV Gn/Gc virus markedly increased its infectivity and capacity for cell-to-cell spread. This gain in viral fitness was associated with the acquisition of two point mutations: I532K in the cytoplasmic tail of Gn and S1094L in the membrane-proximal stem of Gc. Follow-up experiments with rVSVs and single-cycle VSV pseudotypes confirmed these results. Mechanistic studies revealed that both mutations were determinative and contributed to viral infectivity in a synergistic manner. Our findings indicate that the primary mode of action of these mutations is to relocalize HTNV Gn/Gc from the Golgi complex to the cell surface, thereby affording significantly enhanced Gn/Gc incorporation into budding VSV particles. Finally, I532K/S1094L mutations in DOBV Gn/Gc permitted the rescue of rVSV-DOBV Gn/Gc, demonstrating that incorporation of cognate mutations into other hantaviral Gn/Gc proteins could afford the generation of rVSVs that are otherwise challenging to rescue. The robust replication-competent rVSVs, bearing HTNV and DOBV Gn/Gc, reported herein may also have utility as vaccines.
IMPORTANCE Human hantavirus infections cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in the Americas and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) in Eurasia. No FDA-approved vaccines and therapeutics exist for these deadly viruses, and their development is limited by the requirement for high biocontainment. In this study, we identified and characterized key amino acid changes in the surface glycoproteins of HFRS-causing Hantaan virus that enhance their incorporation into recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) particles. The replication-competent rVSVs encoding Hantaan virus and Dobrava-Belgrade virus glycoproteins described in this work provide a powerful and facile system to study hantavirus entry under lower biocontainment and may have utility as hantavirus vaccines.