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RNA. Dec 2002; 8(12): 1558–1571.
PMCID: PMC1370361

The influence of viral coding sequences on pestivirus IRES activity reveals further parallels with translation initiation in prokaryotes.


Classical swine fever virus (CSFV) is a member of the pestivirus family, which shares many features in common with hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is shown here that CSFV has an exceptionally efficient cis-acting internal ribosome entry segment (IRES), which, like that of HCV, is strongly influenced by the sequences immediately downstream of the initiation codon, and is optimal with viral coding sequences in this position. Constructs that retained 17 or more codons of viral coding sequence exhibited full IRES activity, but with only 12 codons, activity was approximately 66% of maximum in vitro (though close to maximum in transfected BHK cells), whereas with just 3 codons or fewer, the activity was only approximately 15% of maximum. The minimal coding region elements required for high activity were exchanged between HCV and CSFV. Although maximum activity was observed in each case with the homologous combination of coding region and 5' UTR, the heterologous combinations were sufficiently active to rule out a highly specific functional interplay between the 5' UTR and coding sequences. On the other hand, inversion of the coding sequences resulted in low IRES activity, particularly with the HCV coding sequences. RNA structure probing showed that the efficiency of internal initiation of these chimeric constructs correlated most closely with the degree of single-strandedness of the region around and immediately downstream of the initiation codon. The low activity IRESs could not be rescued by addition of supplementary eIF4A (the initiation factor with ATP-dependent RNA helicase activity). The extreme sensitivity to secondary structure around the initiation codon is likely to be due to the fact that the eIF4F complex (which has eIF4A as one of its subunits) is not required for and does not participate in initiation on these IRESs.

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Selected References

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