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EMBO J. Aug 1992; 11(8): 3135–3145.
PMCID: PMC556798

Poliovirus RNA recombination: mechanistic studies in the absence of selection.


Direct and quantitative detection of recombinant RNA molecules by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) provides a novel method for studying recombination in RNA viruses without selection for viable progeny. The parental poliovirus strains used in this study contained polymorphic marker loci approximately 600 bases apart; both exhibited wild-type growth characteristics. We established conditions under which the amount of PCR product was linearly proportional to the amount of input template, and the reproducibility was high. Recombinant progeny were predominantly homologous and arose at frequencies up to 2 x 10(-3). Recombination events increased in frequency throughout replication, indicating that there is no viral RNA sequestration or inhibition of recombination late in infection as proposed in earlier genetic studies. Previous studies have demonstrated that poliovirus recombination occurs by a copy-choice mechanism in which the viral polymerase switches templates during negative-strand synthesis. Varying the relative amount of input parental virus markedly altered reciprocal recombination frequencies. This, in conjunction with the kinetics data, indicated that acceptor template concentration is a determinant of template switching frequency. Since positive strands greatly outnumber negative strands throughout poliovirus infection, this would explain the bias toward recombination during negative-strand synthesis.

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