Rotavirus requires specific proteolytic activation by trypsin for efficient replication in tissue culture. To observe the nature of intestinal proteolytic activation of rotavirus in vivo, metabolically labeled rhesus rotavirus (RRV) grown in the presence of trypsin inhibitors was administered to adult and 10-d-old suckling mice by gavage. In the adult stomach, vp4 was cleaved in a manner distinct from in vitro trypsin cleavage. In the suckling stomach, RRV vp4 remains largely uncleaved. The alternative cleavage in the adult stomach was associated with a profound decrease in viral infectivity. vp4 from RRV recovered from the suckling small intestinal lumen was cleaved in a pattern similar or identical to in vitro trypsin-activated virus with bands comigrating with vp5* and vp8*. In contrast, vp4 was not observed in any recognizable form in RRV recovered from adult intestines. Comparison of infectivity of virus recovered from suckling and adult intestines revealed a 10,000-fold decrease in titer in the virus recovered from the adult intestine. In vitro digestions of RRV revealed that pepsin digestion can cleave RRV vp4 and markedly enhance acid-induced loss of rotavirus infectivity. Subsequent digestion with chymotrypsin removes most of the pepsin cleavage products of vp4. Virus injected directly into jejunal loops of adult mice and virus administered orally to adult mice pretreated with antiacid drugs retained infectivity. These studies indicate the development of gastric acid and pepsin secretion may be an important host defense factor in rotavirus gastroenteritis.
D M Bass, M Baylor, R Broome, H B Greenberg