• apoptosis;
  • caspase;
  • nucleocapsid protein pathway;
  • Punta Toro virus


Punta Toro virus (PTV; family Bunyaviridae, genus Phlebovirus) causes severe hepatic damage through brisk apoptosis of hepatocytes. In the present study, two viral proteins encoded by the S segment of the viral genome, non-structural (NSs) and nucleocapsid protein (N), were examined for their roles in apoptosis. Expression of NSs in HepG2 cells led to apoptosis in 45% of transfected cells, and with N, 28%, on average. These levels represent a four- to an eightfold increase over cells transfected with the mutated protein vectors. Caspase-3, -8 and -9 activities were increased by N protein when compared with the control NC (P < 0.05), and by NSsA and NSsB, as compared to control NSsC (P < 0.01). Treatment of the transfected cells with caspase-8 or -9 inhibitors markedly decreased apoptosis. Neutralization of TNF-α or Fas ligand had no effect on apoptosis. These results indicate that both NSs and N are responsible for causing hepatocyte apoptosis by triggering the extrinsic caspase-8 and intrinsic caspase-9 pathways.